Author: Africah Harrigan

DEPARTMENT HEADS SHARE FY 2020 BUDGET FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

Download PDF

St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), UVI Research & Technology Park, Corp., the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission, and the Virgin Islands Elections System.

The Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget that is recommended for the University of the Virgin Islands general operations is $25,155,458; according to UVI President David Hall. By provisions of Title 17, Chapters 33 & 35 of the Virgin Islands Code, the amount is inclusive of salaries and benefits for the full-time and temporary employees, and an operating budget comprised of revenues and expenditures.

Furthermore, Hall stated that the $3,992,205 for debt service is to continue establishing a state-of-the-art residence hall for the St. Thomas Campus. An additional $1,000,000 for debt service is required for medical school facilities and there is a request of $3,000,000 more to assist with the Free Tuition Scholarship Program. UVI is also seeking $2.9 million to fund other initiatives and programs and $450,000 for the Data Science Program and salary compression needs.

UVI RTPark Executive Director Peter Chapman noted that the FY 2020 budget for the UVI Research & Technology Park, Corp. has yet to be determined. Based on the FY 2019 budget, much of the costs stem from client/company commitments to UVI and personnel. “We are still working on our proposed FY 2020 budget for presentation to our Board of Directors, but we project that the operating cost will increase for several reasons.” Some of the factors that affect the FY 2020 budget are managing expenses associated with the West Center, hiring new employees, and launching an Accelerator Program. Chapmen noted that for FY 2019, UVI RTPark achieved significant milestones towards growth and development. Thus far, a cross-disciplinary team was established, eight new companies became RT clients and, over 100 companies were identified to assist with the expansion process.

The Virgin Islands Casino Commission Vice Chair Usie Richards indicated that the governor’s recommended a lumpsum of $600,000 of the General Fund for FY 2020. However, the Commission is requesting an additional $223,000 totaling $823,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. The monies will be allocated for members and staff of the Commission. Currently, personnel services represent 46% of the budget. Presently, there is a total of 13 positions available at the Commission; of which eleven are filled and two are vacancies.

Lastly, the Virgin Islands Elections System Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes stated that the proposed budget for FY 2020 is $2,144,000. The budget breakdown is as follows: $673,000 for personnel services, $150,000 for capital outlays, $211,000 for fringe benefits, $65,000 for supplies, $91,000 for utilities, and $954,000 for other services. Fawkes stated that some of the challenges are identifying funding to upgrade the voter registration database, training, acquiring ballots and, the lack of monies for legal counsel.                                    ###

MAJOR & MINOR COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT PERMITS MOVE FORWARD

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the 33rd Legislature, led by Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., convened in the second day of Legislative Session at the Capitol Building on Tuesday and voted favorably for bills as it pertains to Major and Minor Coastal Zone Management Permits.

Rising out of Legislative Session and into the Committee of the Whole, lawmakers received testimony on two petitions and Major and Minor Coastal Zone Management Permits.

Firstly, is the Petition of Nicole Toby- Requesting a use variance to the R-2 (Residential-Low-Density One and Two-Family) zoned Parcel No. 84 Estate Diamond, Prince Quarter, St. Croix. The purpose is to allow for the construction and operation of a beauty salon. Toby noted that the salon is an addition to her existing single-family home. The water supply will connect to the existing cistern that is 22,640 sq. ft. and the wastewater will be disposed of by the existing septic system 1800gal. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources Planner Leia Laplace mentioned that the surrounding residents in the neighborhood do not oppose the rezoning.

Secondly, is the Petition of Ms. Norma Blackwood- Requesting that Plot No. 25 Estate Concordia, West End Quarter, St Croix be rezoned from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B3 (Business-Scattered). The proposed use is to allow for restaurant and retail use on the property. Blackwood stated that the property has been in the family for over 50 years. By commercializing the property there will be available spaces for rentals and businesses in Frederiksted. Laplace indicated that residents in the neighborhood voiced concerns such as using the property for farming, impacts of the development on the shoreline, and the effects on the Castle Nugent National Park.

Similarly, the Virgin Islands Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe shared his remarks as it relates to Bill No. 33-0120- An Act ratifying the approval of the Governor of the Virgin Islands of Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-7-18 (W) issued to the Virgin Islands Port Authority and the West Indian Company Ltd. And Bill No. 33-0124- An Act ratifying the approval of the Governor of the Virgin Islands of Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-6-16 (L & W). “Both of these applications are significant to VIPA, WICO, and the USVI. The completion of these projects will play a monumental role in the growth of our economy and the development of the transportation infrastructure in the Territory,” said Dowe. Ultimately, senators voted with a favorable recommendation for both items.

Rising out of the Committee of the Whole and senators reconvened Legislative Session. Policymakers voted and approved all the items on the agenda.

Lawmakers also voted favorably for the following:

  • Bill No. 33-0121- An Act ratifying the approval by the Governor of the Virgin Islands of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No CZJ-16-18 issued to Robert Gross.
  • Bill No. 33-0125- An Act ratifying the approval of the Governor of the Virgin Island of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-36-16 (W).
  • Bill No. 33-0133- An Act authorizing the reprogramming $5,061,540 from available remaining unused funds of Gross Receipts, Taxes, and Bonds, Matching Fund Revenue Bonds, the Community Facilities Trust Account and/or funds available in the General Fund previously appropriated for certain Department of Education projects to finance currently essential rehabilitation and maintenance projects of the Department of Education.
  • Bill No. 33-0139- An Act reprogramming funds from the GERS Outstanding Employer’s Contribution to the Department of Property and Procurement to insure Government Buildings and Properties; as amended.
  • Bill No. 33-0138-A Resolution to enhance the friendship and bilateral economic and cultural ties between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Taiwan.
  • Bill No. 33-0140- An Act granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 84 Estate Diamond, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands to R-2 (Residential-Low-Density-One and Two Family) to allow for construction and operation of a beauty salon.
  • Bill No. 33-0141- An Act granting a zoning use variance for Plot No. 25 Estate Concordia, West End Quarter, Frederiksted, St. Croix, from R-2 (Residential-Low-Density-One and Two Family) for B-3 (Business-Scattered) to allow for restaurant and retail uses on the property.

                                                      ###

LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINATIONS FOR THE V.I. BOARD OF LICENSURE AND THE V.I. BOARD OF LICENSED COUNSELORS AND EXAMINERS

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted favorably for the nominations of Janette Bowers, RN, MSN, FNP, BC to serve as a Licensed Practical Nurse for the Virgin Islands Board of Licensure (VIBNL), Tamara Mohammed, MS, MCH, LPC to serve as a Licensed Professional Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners, Ophelia Powell-Torres, RN, BSN, MA. to serve as Nurse Educator on the V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure, and Patricia Towal, M.Ed. LPC, to serve as a Licensed Professional Counselor on the Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners.

The nominations were 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.

Nominee Bowers noted that she earned a Doctorate Degree in Nursing. She was also awarded the Nurse Leadership Award for the Doctoral Practice from Frontier University. Her clinical practice in the Territory was at the Frederiksted Health Care. Nominee Bowers mentioned that her work was geared towards providing medical care to people who are homeless, patients living with HIV, and the low-income families. She stated that because of her work history she is qualified to serve on VIBNL. “I have had the privilege of gaining a variety of experiences and have developed expertise in several areas including family medicine, HIV medicine, homeless health, emergency medicine, and cardiovascular medicine,” said Bowers.

According to Nominee Mohammed, she gained valuable experience working as a Substance Abuse Counselor at a community-based treatment center providing support to at-risk youths who suffered from substance abuse and are in juvenile detention facilities. Additionally, Mohammed mentioned that she previously worked as a Military & Family Life Counselor providing services to military families in need of care; establish practices to provide in-person and telehealth counseling services to clients with challenges, and completed crisis intake assessments for an Inpatient Psychiatric Facility. Nominee Mohammad said, “There is a great need for the care in the Virgin Islands, as well as a lack of resources to seek help when needed. Improving mental health care is a matter of health equity and human rights, and the establishment of the board is a solid step in the right direction.”

Separately, Nominee Torres stated that some of her goals to improve VIBL are to establish a medication course for CNA’s to become certified, providing a list of nursing assistant skills for nursing students who are taking the certification exam, transparency, and accepting nurses and nurse aides trained in the VI by various states in the United States. Similarly, Nominee Towal noted that because of additional Licensed Counselors there will be an increase of counseling services in the Territory. Therefore, there will be a rise in revenues and the availability of counseling services will be a lot more accessible to patrons.  

###

LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINATIONS RECOMMENDED BY THE GOVERNOR

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the 33rd Legislature, led by Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., convened in the first day of Legislative Session at the Capitol Building on Monday and voted favorably for several nominations. The nominations were sent to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands 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 approved items will be forwarded to the Governor for further consideration.

Senators voted and approved the nominations of Kimberley Causey-Gomez as Commissioner for the Department of Human Services, Colonel Kodjo Knox-Limbacker as Adjutant General for the Virgin Islands National Guard, Calvert White as Commissioner for the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation, and Raymond Williams as Director for the Virgin Islands Lottery.

Similarly, lawmakers also voted favorably for the nominations of Dr. Vincentia Paul-Constantin to serve as a Licensed Professional Counselor on the Board of Licensure Counselors and Examiners, Hugo Hodge, Jr. to serve as a member of the Virgin Islands Horse Racing Commission for the District of St. Thomas-St. John and Shane Benjamin to serve as a member for the Horse Racing Commission for the St. Thomas-St. John District.

Furthermore, policymakers also voted with a favorable recommendation for the nominations of Janette Bowers, RN, MSN, FNP, BC to serve as a Licensed Practical Nurse for the Virgin Islands Board of Licensure (VIBNL), Tamara Mohammed, MS, MCH, LPC to serve as a Licensed Professional Counselor for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners, Ophelia Powell-Torres, RN, BSN, MA. to serve as Nurse Educator on the V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure, and Patricia Towal, M.Ed. LPC, to serve as a Licensed Professional Counselor on the Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners.

Sen. Francis advised the nominees that public service is not easy, because of the constant subjection to scrutiny. “There are herculean tasksthat lie ahead. Continue to overcome the pessimism and work hard to pursue your endeavors. Overall, the nominees possess the professional skills needed to move this Territory forward.”

Ultimately, upon completion of the agenda, Legislative Session was recessed. The meeting will resume on Tuesday, August 13th at 10:00 am.

###

THE NOMINATIONS OF COMMISSIONER NOMINEES MOVE

Download PDF

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.

###

THE VIRGIN ISLANDS POLICE DEPARTMENT AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MANAGEMENT AGENCY SHARES AN OVERVIEW WITH SENATORS

Download PDF

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.             ###

SENATORS HELD IN COMMITTEE BILL AS IT RELATES TO GERS AND APPROVED THREE LEASE AGREEMENTS

Download PDF

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.

###

VIRGIN ISLANDS WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND THE WATER AND POWER AUTHORITY SHARES STATUS WITH COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Download PDF

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.

###

COMMITTEE ON RULES AND JUDICIARY APPROVES THREE OUT OF FOUR NOMINATIONS

Download PDF

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.                                                                                                                                                           ###

DEPARTMENT OF PLANNING AND NATURAL RESOURCES SHARE OVERVIEW

Download PDF

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.  ###