Author: Africah Harrigan


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Alicia Barnes, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and voted favorably for three nominations sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.

The approved nominations are Kirk Callwood, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Finance, Gary Malloy, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Labor (VIDOL) and Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Tourism. Sen. Barnes noted that it is the responsibility of the Legislature to conduct a detailed vetting process before approving each nominee.

Under a line of questioning, Sen. Barnes requested that Nominee Callwood expounds on the strategies to improve operations in the St. Croix District as it relates to vendors and tracking payments. Callwood stated that he intends on filling vacancies such as the Director of Treasury on St. Croix to oversee and streamline operations. Currently, the Core Leadership Team comprises of seven members; with one from the St. Croix District and six from the St. Thomas-St. John District. Sen. Athneil Thomas inquired about GVI cash at hand. Nominee Callwood mentioned that there are ten days cash at hand totaling $26 million with expenditures of $2 million per day. The balance is divided by the remaining allotments for the rest of FY 2019.

Overall, Nominee Callwood has over twenty-two years of experience in leadership, policymaking, and strategic planning. Some of his short-term goals are to collaborate with government agencies to conduct quarterly training with fiscal officers, to reimburse the General Fund through the verification of the biweekly payroll, and to pursue draw-downs on Federal and Disaster Funds and reimbursement to the General Fund. Some of his long-term goals are inclusive of integrating the Tyler Munis Modules to promote work efficiency Territory-wide, to re-establish a healthy relationship with the capital markets for investment and to develop a ten-year strategic plan to pay off the structural deficit of GVI.

Separately, Nominee Malloy has thirty years of experience, specifically twenty-seven years of leadership positions at the Department of Education and in the private sector. To improve operations of VIDOL, he intends on eliminating the high-risk status of federal requirements, implementing training for employees, hiring employees to fill critical vacancies and to continue assessing and implementing VIDOL’s statutory responsibilities. Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired whether employees working beyond their job capacities receive compensation. Nominee Malloy stated that some of them are while others aren’t. Directors are responsible for assessing their employee’s tasks and submitting the documents to payroll.

Lastly, Nominee Boschulte stated that one of the significant challenges of the Department of Tourism is the shortage of hotel inventory and occupancy of available rooms because of the damages sustained post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Any available hotel rooms are currently occupied by disaster recovery workers who are there until the restoration of the Territory. Additionally, there was a shortage of new inventory for over twenty years. Another challenge is maintaining and increasing airlift capacity. Sen. Barnes inquired of restoring the availability of air travel to and from St. Croix. Nominee Boschulte stated that within the next ninety days there would be negotiations with major airlines to restore service and frequency of trips to the St. Croix District.

The strategic plan to propel the Department of Tourism forward mirrors the goals shared by previous Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty’s transition report. Raising revenues from expenditures of domestic and international visitors, improving the overall tourism product, and promoting the beauty of each island are some of the strategies to enhance the overall tourism product.



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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Sen. Steven Payne convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the Virgin Islands Management Agency (VITEMA).

VIPD shared an update. In comparison to 2018, there is an increase in the number of homicides as of January 2019 Territory-wide. To combat crime in the community, VIPD is collaborating with federal partners to investigate crimes. Additionally, traffic and patrol initiatives are effective in seizing drugs, guns, and arresting criminals. VIPD launched ‘Operation Crack Down’ with saturated patrol officers who target illegal tint on windows, seatbelt violations, uninsured vehicles, and license plates. In 2018, VIPD recovered 54 illegal firearms on St. Croix and 48 on St. Thomas; totaling 122. Thus far, in 2019 VIPD confiscated 15 illegals guns.

Sen. Payne inquired about the steps taken to use technology to improve the service of police officers. In response, VIPD Acting Police Commissioner Jason Marsh stated that VIPD began implementing the camera project. Recent police graduates wear axon Body cameras. The goal is to furnish all patrol officers with body cams. However, additional grant funding is required. VIPD in the process of implementing the Public Safety Solution: an automation system to report incidents and manage records. Recently, VIPD has twenty-five graduated officers. Recruitment efforts continue by advertising on a variety of media outlets, events and by partnering with the U.S. Army.

Separately, VITEMA shared an overview. The 2019 Disaster Preparedness Plan of VITEMA is inclusive of storing essential commodities such as generators, tarps, meals, water, blankets, and cots in storage on both districts. On St. Thomas, there are 24,960 meals, 26 generators, 509 tarps, 61,408 water, and 702 sheets. On St. John, there are 39,000 liters of water and 26,880 meals in storage. On St. Croix there are 270,000 liters of water, 1200 blankets, 15 generators, 179,600 meals-ready-to-eat, 1,000 sheets, and 480 cots.

VITEMA Acting Director Denise Lewis stated that updating and finalizing the Territorial Comprehensive Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Plan and the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan are some of the goals for VITEMA. Additionally, VITEMA is hiring for critical vacancies and managing projects funded by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there was extensive damage to the Territory’s tsunami warning system; in which most of the tsunami sirens are dysfunctional. Territory-wide, there are forty-four sirens and out of that seven are operable. For the safety of the residents, VITEMA has conducted silent testing monthly on the sirens that are functional. FEMA Public Assistance Program will fund ninety percent of the tsunami warning system to replace, restore and to strengthen the structure. The Community Block Development Grant Disaster Recovery will disseminate ten percent of the funding through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.             ###


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted to hold in committee Bill No. 33-0014 as it relates to the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS). However, senators voted favorably for three lease agreements. All approved items on the agenda will be forwarded to the Committee on the Whole for further consideration.

The measure seeks to amend Section 13 of Act No. 7261 as amended by striking “$7,000,000” and inserting “$10,000,000” and Section 13 of Act No. 7261 as amended by Act No. 8125 is amended by striking “outstanding employer contributions” and inserting “as a direct contribution.” Bill Sponsor Sen. Frett-Gregory stated that the bill is a step in the right direction to resolve GERS priority issues.

Currently, the outstanding employer contribution to GERS totals $71,809,752.63. Out of those monies, $66,799,769.89 is owed for member’s annual benefits; $4,007,986.19 is assumed for lost investment; and $1,001,996.55 is owed in delinquency fees. The outstanding employer contributions are for the statutory fixed rate that is contributed bi-weekly on behalf of the members of the GERS. Sen. Frett-Gregory noted that the estimated $71 million is a part of the $3 billion issues that have the same component for interest. The $71 million is a part of the structural deficit.

GERS Administrator/CEO Austin Nibbs expressed his support of the bill because the $1.8 million was previously used as a direct contribution to the unfunded liability and the nine unfunded mandates. GERS received the $21 million on February 25th from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and invested the funds in its portfolio on March 1st. To process annuity payments to 165 retirees, GERS submitted documentation requesting OMB and the Department of Finance for the reimbursement of $1.8 million.

However, OMB Acting Director Jennifer O’Neal is opposition to the bill because the $71 million is a significant debt, incurs penalties, late fees and a loss of investment. GERS should use the $10 million for debt reduction, not for unfunded liability and unfunded mandates. “OMB is aware of the need to reduce the outstanding employer contributions and not compound the outstanding sum with further charges for delinquency fees and lost investment penalties. OMB maintains reservations regarding a change to the language from Outstanding Contributions.”

Separately, lawmakers voted favorably for the three lease agreements between the Government of the Virgin Islands and the Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) on behalf of their clients. Presently, the process of approving lease agreements can take up to six months to a year. Sen. Frett-Gregory inquired about the challenges with moving lease agreements forward?” DPP Deputy Commissioner Laverne Bailey noted that corporate documents might not be in place; in some cases, there are expired business licenses and lease agreements. Bailey stated that lease agreements last from 10-20 years and the client would receive a letter or renewal.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, DPP on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Rueben Liburd and Sylvia Liburd. Plot No. 4-LA VI CORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, consisting of approximately 2.072 US acres. Twice Farmer of the Year in the Agricultural Fair Rueben Liburd stated that some of the produce grown on the farm are radish, carrots, and passionfruit. Sen. Blyden inquired about the type of machinery needed to fulfill farming tasks. In response, Liburd noted that the land preparation is hindered because the tractors need repairs and there is a shortage of farmers on the land.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, DPP on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Violet Drew and Samuel Tyson. Plot No. 4-G VI CORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix Virgin Islands, Consisting of approximately 3,656 US acres. In addition to crop production, the value of the farm increases because homemade products are sold such as tomato sauce, coconut oil, and jams. Sen. Alison DeGazon inquired about the challenges of farming. In response Drew stated that parts of the fence were damaged, post-hurricanes Irma and Maria. As a result, unwanted animals such as deer and iguanas enter the farm.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement and Dave Jeffers d/b/a Paradise Trucking Service. Parcel No. 99 b-3 Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St Thomas, Virgin Islands, consisting of 4,969 sq. Ft or 0.11 US acres of land more or less. The purpose of the lease is to allow Paradise Trucking to expand current operations and to continue to provide trucking and delivery services in support of the storms. The agreement is for ten years with one five-year period for renewal.



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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Government Operations Consumer and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on the status from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA), the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

One of the significant challenges facing VIWMA is the lack of funding. Three major components are adversely impacting the finances annually or bi-annually. The Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix in which the solid waste bale production and placement operations require five million every year. Compliance with the Landfill Consent Decree to close the Anguilla and Bovoni Landfills estimated at $60 million bi-annually. Lastly, the revenue loss of $10.2 million over the past five years because of the lack of monies appropriated in FY 2013. The Authority is anticipating a budget shortfall of an estimated $44 million for FY 2019. External and internal damages further impacted limited funding to VIWMA sustained by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There is a $12.2 million increase to account payables presently totaling $28.2 million.

VIWMA has an outstanding payment of $5.3 million owed to contracted haulers. Lack of payment delays trash collection services from bin sites public receptacles and house to house collections. Moreover, VIWMA submitted to the Legislature $30 million bond authorization bill to assist with capital projects associated with court-mandated schedules of the Consent Decree to bring landfills up to par with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Similarly, Wastewater Consent Decree requirements are achievable with additional funding. VIWMA proactively apply for grants for financial assistance.

VIWMA does not have adequate members serving on the Authority’s Governing Board. As a result, there is a lack of quorum during meetings which hinders decisions on operations, approval of capital improvement projects, and addressing challenges of the consent decree. Sen. Thomas stated that it is essential to have a full board; then inquired about what makes a full complement of board members. VIWMA Interim Executive Director Adrian Taylor noted that seven members are required. To date, there are only four board members.

Similarly, the Authority is understaffed specifically with critical vacancies. In total there are thirty-three funded vacancies. Job openings are difficult to fill because of uncompetitive salary offers. Sen. Javan James recommended that VIWMA recruit former employees of HOVENSA. VIWMA Chief Financial Officer Heather Daley noted that there were many workers hired upon closure of the refinery, but eventually many of them relocated to the mainland.

Separately, the update on WAPA is as follows: The status of Restoration/Mitigation projects for the WAPA Composite Pole Mitigation Project and the T&D Undergrounding Mitigation Project is scheduled for completion as early as March 2019 to October 2020.  The benefits of both projects are that underground electric service facilities will prevent extended outages in the occurrence of a natural disaster. To date, the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) owes over $31 million for water and electricity services.  Out of the $31 million, $23.2 million GVI hospitals owe that amount.

WAPA purchased three LPG-fueled generating units from Wartsila North America Inc, for an estimated $40 million, through an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Agreement on March 2017. WAPA used the Fuel Tax Fund to make a down payment of $7 million and issued an additional $14,765,000 with the Electric System Revenue Bond Anticipation Notes, Series 2017 to finance a portion of the purchase. Currently, the Authority is in the process of funding of the balance of $20 million by utilizing the Fuel Tax Fund and will owe $19 million upon completion of the project in March 2019. The purpose is to switch from fuel to LPG as the primary fuel source to provide efficient power generation. If the use of Fuel Tax revenues is repealed one option is to petition the Public Service Commission (PSC) to increase further rates paid by consumers which will provide financial means to complete the project.

Separately, there are two phases for the Aggreko Project. Phase I is the installation of the 20-megawatt new generation, and Phase II focuses on the capacity of the new generation. Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, WAPA had irregular dissemination of bills to customers. Currently, consumers receive an invoice every 30 days. There were damages to the Advanced Metering Infrastructure System after the storms. Presently, the towers are fully functioning, collectors are in place, and meter readability will be fully operational by June 2019.

In addition to VIWMA and WAPA the BMV shared an update. Presently, BMV is in the process curtailing long lines by offering online services to customers to make payments, renew vehicles that are six years old by mail with a cashier’s check or money order and hiring staff to work in the processing center on St. Croix. Presently, BMV is working diligently to overcome obstacles for the Real ID and ID System to reduce the 30 days for the issuance process. BMV is also in the process of remodeling the office buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix that sustained damages after the storms. VITEMA from the FEMA Public Assistance Program approved BMV’s ten project worksheets.



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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Alicia Barnes, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted favorably for three out of four nominations sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.

The approved nominations are Anthony Thomas, Commissioner Nominee of the Dept. of Property and Procurement, Joel Lee, Director Nominee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Barbara Jackson McIntosh, Director Nominee for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Sen. Alicia Barnes stated that while it is the authority of the governor to fill his cabinet with who he deems as qualified individuals, it is the responsibility of the Legislature to conduct a detailed vetting process before approving each nominee.

The Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) Commissioner Nominee Anthony Thomas earned a master’s degree in Business Administration. His short-term goals for DPP are to review contracts, leases MOU’s to ensure they are current and to improve employee morale. Sen. Marvin Blyden inquired about the strategy used to boost employee morale. Nominee Thomas stated that ensuring employees know that the administration values them is a step in the right direction. Nominee Thomas’s long-term goals are inclusive of developing a sustainable procurement capacity throughout the government agencies, managing government vehicles, fixed assets, and properties. Sen. Janelle Sarauw requested the nominee to expound on a plan to limit the number of funds spent on rent for government agencies. Nominee Thomas noted that leasing a contract is cheaper than owning a building. The transition from renting to owning a building is costly.

Joel Lee, Director Nominee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in Accounting. He is also a Certified Public Accountant in Virginia and the United States Virgin Islands. Nominee Lee owned an Accounting firm since 2014. His primary focus as Director is to pursue tax collection by ensuring that tax returns are filed, and payments are made. To-date, there is an estimated $360 million in outstanding taxes to Government of the Virgin Islands and $125 million owed to taxpayers; out of that over $50 million was processed. Sen. Dwayne DeGraff inquired about the collection strategy. Nominee Lee stated that vacancies for qualified personnel would be heavily advertised and it is a necessity to replace outdated equipment with modern technology.

Barbara Jackson McIntosh, Director Nominee for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, earned a master’s degree in Public Administration. She holds additional degrees in Marketing Management & Sales and Organizational Management. Nominee McIntosh has certificates in the Council of State Government Henry Toll Fellow Graduate, Certified Grants Manager, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Commercial Motor Vehicles. Her primary goal is to develop and implement a Strategic Performance Plan. It will serve as a means of monitoring shortfalls, progress, activities and performance evaluations.

Although the above mentioned received a favorable recommendation, senators voted to hold in committee the nomination of Raquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner Nominee of the Dept. of Education. Collectively, lawmakers noted that the nominee had a “superficial” and “shallow” approach in addressing critical issues plaguing the Department of Education. Nominee Benjamin earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision. She has served in leadership positions in various capacities to include a Mathematics Coach, Reading Coach, and the School Improvement Team. She gained work experience as a Director for the Division of Cultural Education, and Deputy Superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John District.  Some of her goals are to partner with all stakeholders to focus on student academic achievement to include vocational learning, to develop a sound-systematic communication system to be a portal to exchange vital information amongst stakeholders and to design modern learning facilities while maintaining existing structures.                                                                                                                                                           ###


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Culture and Planning, chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on an update of the Historic Preservation, marine environment, Town’s Blueprint, libraries, archives/museums and other related items.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, FEMA determined that the Historic Preservation Unit sustained an estimated $19 million worth of damages. However, DPNR’s State Historic Preservation Office was awarded $10 million to implement a recovery program for suitable archeological and historic sites that are on the National Register List. Sen. Jackson questioned whether DPNR received the $10 million. DPNR Commissioner Nominee Jean Oriol stated that there was no distribution of funds. The National Park Service will issue a check.

DPNR’s Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) monitors thirty-three sites in the marine environment for the Territorial Coral Reef Monitoring Program. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which increases the coral reef mortality rate, was identified on the west coast of St. Thomas. Overall, DPNR Division of Environmental Enforcement has six officers for the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District. However, a total of ten per district is needed. Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired about the frequency of the enforcement officers patrolling the seas. In response, Oriol stated that there is only one officer who patrols the ocean and more officers need to be recruited.

Thus far, some of the achievements for the Town’s Blueprint includes the initiative of revising the V.I. Zoning and Subdivision codes, meeting with members of the 30th Legislature to determine proposed dates, potentially placing them into bill form and choosing a vendor for legal services. To date, a contract is still not in place. Separately, the Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums have sustained damages because of the hurricanes. Three facilities have extensive mold and contracts are in progress for remediation. FEMA is in the process of finalizing project worksheets for damages. DLAM also lacks adequate staff and funding.

As it relates to long-range planning, the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan was last revised fourteen years ago. However, components of the comprehensive plan are updated. The timeline is as follows: In 2018, CZM created a revisory group to develop water use plans for seven anchoring and mooring areas. One year later, CZM is in the process of developing a territorial transient and day-use mooring plan. By 2020, the marine life plan will target “Areas of Special Concern.”

Separately, the Board of Land Use Appeals (BLUA) shared an overview. John Woods, Chairman of BLUA noted that the purpose of the Board is to review and decide disputes between DPNR and the public. Currently, there are three pending appeals before BLUA; two of them are on St. Croix, and the other is on St. John. Challenges include vacant board member positions, the need for an in-house legal counsel and the lack of funding decelerates the scheduling of hearings.  ###


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on the status of Housing in the Territory.

The Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) public housing operations are as follows: For FY 2018 VIHA received a total of $46,525,937 of Federal Funds. The breakdown is as follows: Public Housing Subsidy is $20,952,312, Public Housing Capital Fund is $9,553,554, Housing Choice Voucher Administration Fee is $1,865,490 and the Housing Voucher Choice Fund is $14,154,581. Sen. Alicia Barnes inquired about the impact to service Section 8 clients despite rent inflation. VIHA Director of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Akala Anthony stated that the allocation of over $14 million equivalents to 17,000 vouchers for 1,750 families with the inflation of rent. The inflation prices adversely affect the ability to house more families of which there are 2400 applicants on a waiting list.

In response to Sen. Blyden’s inquiries on the number of active tenant councils per community and the hinderances of resident participation in leadership council positions; VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham noted that out of 26 housing communities there are three active Resident Councils with elected officers. The community centers are utilized for afterschool programs and daycare for the Dept. of Human Services. The lack of tenant council leaders is due to the responsibility of an advocate to take a stance against guns, gangs, and drugs in the neighborhood. Many are hesitant and fear retaliation because of those challenges.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Lucinda Millin Homes elevator was damaged. However, some of the woes facing the Lucinda Millin Homes are the units were small, there was a lack of amenities and healthcare facilities, and the structure of the edifice was built with inexpensive materials. Sen. Athneil Thomas inquired about the relocation plans for the Lucinda Millin Homes and the Tutu Hi-Rise. Graham stated that VIHA’s Portfolio Repositioning Strategy is to replace the edifice with new senior housing at Oswald Harris Court. As it relates to the Tutu Hi-Rise, demolition plans are on hold due to VIHA awaiting final approval from FEMA for the Project Worksheet 390. The VIHA’s Portfolio Repositioning Strategy is to replace the Tutu Hi-Rise and relocate family and senior units to three locations.

Separately, the Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands Inc. (CCVI) and the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) shared an update.

Presently, CCVI St. Thomas location, is the only emergency shelter throughout the Territory. The shelter on St. Croix is inoperable because of damages sustained by Hurricane Maria in 2017. CCVI Executive Director Andrea Shillingford noted that one of the significant challenges is inadequate mental health and substance abuse treatment services which is a contributing factor to homelessness. Shortly, plans are inclusive of replacing and upgrading the Bethlehem House on St. Thomas and to open eleven apartment units on St. Croix to house single men.

The VIHFA was awarded $242,684,000 with an additional $779,217,000 totaling $1,021,901,000 from the U.S. Virgin Islands Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan. Since then, the department hired twenty employees to implement plans to increase housing and community development with the primary goal of creating opportunities for affordable homeownership throughout the Territory. Some of the targeted locations for first-time home-owners in the St. Croix District are Bonne Esperance, Cotton Valley, Estate Mount Pleasant, and Estate Solitude. In the St. Thomas-St. John District there will be homeownership opportunities at Whispering Hills, Estate Nazareth, Estate Fortuna, Ross Taarneberg, Queen Louise Apartments, and Estate Bethany.                                                                                  ###


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ST. THOMAS- The Office of Sen. Janelle Sarauw and the Legislature of the Virgin Islands Division of Reporters collaborated to host the 2nd Annual Stenographer’s Day held at the Capitol Building on Friday. The event showcases the tasks, duties and career opportunities of stenographers to a group of high school students.

“The purpose of today is to expose the youths to the profession of stenography as they begin to explore career possibilities,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw. “Young people will have an opportunity to learn from professionals in the field who are passionate about stenography and look forward to sharing their profession and experiences.”

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory stated that this is one of the most awesome professions. Lawmakers are researching scholarships to support students who want to pursue a career as a stenographer or a court reporter.

Guest panelists are the Legislative Reporters Tricia Sealey, Casmus Caines, Vashti Berry, and Nataya Munoz; Retired Legislative Reporter Desiree Francis; Official Reporters for the Superior Court are Kai M. Mulley, Suzette Descartes, and Jasmine Wadie-Francis; Freelance Reporters Noreen Surge and Verdell Porter; Student Reporter Joyann Morris.

The 2nd Annual Stenographer’s Day is in conjunction with the 2019 NCRA National Court Reporting and Captioning Week which is recognized annually on February 9th-16th. The event creates awareness of court reporting and captioning. Throughout the week, participants learn about the various aspects of the profession to include salaries.  The National Court Reporting and Captioning Week is an effort to recruit career seekers to meet the high demand for employment opportunities in the trade.



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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development & Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Alison DeGazon, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) on the status of agricultural development in the Territory.

“Agriculture is a major economic sector in the Caribbean. It continues to generate income for other islands, facilitate food security, supply nutrition, and sovereignty, contribute to physical and infrastructural development and reduce poverty and hunger,” said Sen. DeGazon.

Currently, the status of agriculture in the Virgin Islands is “underutilized” noted Commissioner Nominee Positive Nelson. “Though, agriculture is proven potential has precedence it remains untapped and stagnant.” Some of the goals of VIDOA are to increase food production and security inclusive of crops, Next generation of farmers, livestock and marine life, boosting employee morale, market distribution, restore water preservation and dissemination, and the restoration of indigenous plants and forestry.

Nevertheless, the challenges plaguing the Department are unpredictable weather conditions such as a drought or natural disasters, low compensation for current farmers, the steady decline of the economy and the lack of people who are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture. Presently, the average age of a farmer is sixty-two years old. Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas inquired of VIDOA’s strategy to attract younger farmers. Commissioner Nominee Nelson stated that educating youngsters and exposing them to new opportunities is a step in the right direction.

In 2017, there were 253 active licensed farmers in the St. Croix District. However, by 2018, there was a reduction of registered farmers on St. Croix totaling 171 of which approximately 40 farmers with a community garden had access to free water; the remaining must purchase water.

There are 27 registered farmers on St. Thomas and five on St. John. We Grow Food Inc. (WGF) President Eldridge Thomas noted that since December of 2018, water distribution has been a significant issue on St. Thomas. Despite hosting an Agricultural Fair, water trucks owned by the government were inoperable forcing WGF to buy water. Sen. DeGazon stated that infrastructure needs to be in place to give all farmers access to clean water.

VIDOA has an estimated 1,776.09 acres of the land asset on St. Croix of which 1,228 acres were leased. On St. Thomas, there is 133 acres of the land asset, but only 118 acres was distributed. On St. John, VIDOA has two acres of the land asset, and none of it was leased. Annually, the collective profit from leased lands totals $22,000. The percentage of farmers on Government property who has minimum farming activities equates to 34% of the farmers on St. Croix and 30% on St. Thomas. As it relates to outstanding land rental fee payments, there is 65% delinquent accounts on St. Thomas and 28% delinquent accounts on St. Croix. VIDOA is funded through Federal Grant Programs estimated at $1.8 million, the General Fund estimated at $4.5 and the Agriculture Revolving Fund of which $37K generated in revenues for the first quarter of FY 2019.                                 ###


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on an update of the financial status of the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) and the Disaster Recovery Funds.

Sen. Frett-Gregory noted that this is an opportunity for the Governor’s Financial Team to provide a clear understanding of local and federal dollars and the use of funds moving forward. “Transparency is critical and necessary for lawmakers to make informed decisions.”

Currently, GVI is operating with an ongoing structural deficit estimated at $415 million. The aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria created a downward ripple effect on the financial condition of the Territory by hindering revenue collections which led to liquidity issues. As a result, GVI borrowed additional Working Capital Funds from the Federal Government inclusive of the Community Disaster Loans (CDL) totaling $215 million; of which $144 million is for the Central Government, $42 million for the Juan F. Luis Hospital and $28 million is for Schneider Regional Medical Hospital. Sen. Stedman Hodge inquired about how will CDL be repaid. Department of Finance Acting Commissioner Kirk Callwood stated that Gross Receipt Taxes secure CDL. The start date for loan repayment begins in April 2019.

The Fiscal Year 2018 revenues collected as of September 20, 2018, are $710 million to include tax collections. Additional revenues collected was $27 million. Overall, this totals $737 million for General Fund revenues. GVI distributed $40 million for Income Tax Revenues in FY 2018 and is expecting refund payments estimated at $38 million for FY 2019. The increase in personnel cost for the salary of government employees totals $25,550,789. Out of that, the Department of Education will receive an estimated $15 million. Equally important, the balance on insurance proceeds is $53 million out of $120 million. The amount expended was $67 million, and that was distributed to government agencies to assist with necessary repairs.

To date, GVI has $36 million for cash-at-hand. “That is concerning to me because $36 million equates to 16 days. This is not a true representation because there are vendors that are still unpaid,” said Sen. Frett Gregory. Sen. Novelle Francis added that there needs to be a Cash Management Team to ensure vendor payments because vendors pay Gross Receipt Tax. As of January 31, 2019, GVI’s General Obligation Debt totals $861.6 million; to include CDL. The Matching Fund Revenue Obligation Debt is $802.9 million.

Separately, the Federal Government has awarded $1.6 billion for approximately 1,000 projects inclusive of the 500 projects that are going through the lengthy process of inspection and approval. The Federal monies cover post-hurricanes damages throughout the Virgin Islands. Out of those monies, government agencies were issued $722 million for the Disaster Recovery Funds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated $894 million for approved projects.