FINANCE COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FY 2023 BUDGET REQUESTS FOR THE VIRGIN ISLANDS PUBLIC BROADCASTING SYSTEM AND VITEMA, CONSIDERS LEASE AGREEMENTS

Published: Jun 28, 2022

ST. CROIX – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings on Tuesday at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year 2023 Executive Budget for the Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and the Virgin Islands Territorial Management Agency (VITEMA), along with three lease agreements.

In Block 1, Tanya-Marie Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System delivered testimony. The requested budget for the agency totaled $4,401,902 for Fiscal Year 2023, an increase of $86,312 above the Governor’s General Fund recommendation of $4,315,590. The System began broadcasting in 1972 and remains the sole PBS member station in the territory. It provides its member stations with educational programming in the arts and performances, historical, cultural, and scientific areas. The system receives oversight by an 11-member board of directors. It currently consists of 10 current board members, with one vacancy. There are 39 full-time positions with five vacancies.

Daryl Jaschen, the Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Management Agency delivered testimony. The agency’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 was $9,936,053. The Agency has 141 funded positions, of which 57 are classified and 84 are exempt. 65 of the positions are funded by the General Fund; 21 positions are non ECC related. One position is vacant. The remaining 44 positions are ECC (911) positions. There are 42 operators, and two managers: one in each district. One of the ECC (911) operators is on military leave. VITEMA also has 76 federally funded positions. 57 of those positions are funded by the Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Disaster Grants. 32 of the disaster grant funded positions are filled and 25 are vacant. 19 positions are funded by other grants. 15 of those positions are filled and 1 is vacant. The agency has a total of 106 fulltime active employees.

Separately, in Block 2, the Committee considered three leases:

Bill No. 34-0273, an act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement and 41 Subbase, LLC., for the leasing of Parcel No. 41 Subbase, Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Bill No. 34-0274, an act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through its Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement, and A-9 Trucking Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a N2N Water Supply for Parcel No. 1-20-1, Estate Bovoni, Nos. 1 and 2, Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, on the island of St. Thomas for the purpose of operating a water delivery, trucking, heavy equipment business, a repair garage, and for other related purposes.

Bill No. 34-0277, an act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through its Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement and the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority for multiple plots of land in Estate Bovoni, Nos. 1 and 2 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, including two (2) portions of Remainder of Parcel No. 1-A, two (2) portions of Parcel No. 1A-8, a portion of Parcel No. 1A-7, a portion of Parcel No. 1-21, and Parcel No. 17A-7, for the purpose of constructing, operating, and maintaining wind turbine generators, any needed maintenance sheds, access roads, and also constructing, operating, and maintaining an electrical utility substation and for other purposes.

Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Division of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement, testified in support of the lease agreements.

As per Bill No. 34-0273, the term of the agreement would be for 20 years, with two renewal terms of 10 years each. The annual rent during the term of lease would be $12,000, payable in equal monthly installments of $1,000 plus 35% of all base rent collected from all subtenants. The rent payable under this lease would be adjusted annually, after the conclusion the initial term, including any renewal term, in accordance with the increase of the Consumer Price Index, as established by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The property was severely damaged in 2017. The agreement would allow needed repairs and agreements to begin. 41 Subbase would replace the roof and siding, upgrade the aged electrical and plumbing, resurface the asphalt parking area, and install an emergency standby generator. Adjusting for inflation, the cost of renovation and upgrades could approach upwards of $1,000,000. However, the measure failed in Committee.

As it pertains to Bill No, 34-0274, the term of the agreement would be for 20 years, with two additional 10-year option periods. The annual rent would be $36,000 payable in equal monthly installments of $3,000. The rent payable under this lease agreement would be adjusted after the first 5 years, and then annually, thereafter including any renewal term in accordance with the increase of the Consumer Price Index, as established by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. This lease would allow A-9 Trucking to relocate its current operations. The property would be used to operate a trucking and heavy equipment business and other related purposes. A-9 Trucking would construct and operate a heavy equipment maintenance garage and an office. The measure was voted upon favorably and will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

As it relates to Bill 34-0277, the term of the lease would be for a period of 25 years with one additional 5-year renewal term. The annual rent term during the lease would be $48,000 payable in annual installments. If the lessee assigns or transfers the lease, the assignee would pay an annual rent of $84,000 payable in equal monthly installments of $7,000. These properties would be used by WAPA and their partners for constructing, operating and maintaining wind turbine generators, maintenance sheds, access roads for the construction and operation of a microgrid of wind turbine generators, an electoral utility substation and other related purposes. The project would generate clean, renewable, and sustainable energy for the utility. Senator Vialet voiced concern with Bill 34-0277, stating that potential savings might not be realized. The Committee later voted to hold the measure at the request of the chair.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Javan E. James, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Carla J. Joseph, and Kenneth L. Gittens.

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