Author: Eustace Browne


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Members of the of the Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment, and Planning, chaired by Senator Alicia V. Barnes, held a public meeting Wednesday on St. Croix regarding the project status of Limetree Bay, LLC.

Chairwoman Alicia V. Barnes said in her opening statement that her Committee convened to receive testimony on the status of Limetree Bay, LLC, the commencement of refining operations, terminal operations, environmental permitting, local vs. non-local employment levels, compliance concerns with subcontractors as it relates to the territory’s environmental, labor, and licensing laws as outlined in the 2018 Amended Operating Agreement.

Senator Barnes stated that we are a small community, and at times, in small communities, rumors, gossip and innuendos quickly become believed facts.  She said it is her hope that the information provided in the hearing will serve to set the record straight, as to what is actually and factually happening at the Limetree Bay Facility.

In his presentation, Brian K. Lever, President and Chief Executive Officer of Limetree Bay Ventures, LLC., said, only together that we will succeed and prosper going forward. According to Lever, commitments to the people of the Virgin Islands and the Legislature have not only been kept but exceeded. He noted several obligations: (1) Invest approximately $125 million in the facility by January 2018, (2) Limetree invested over $190 million through the deadline and has now invested more than $1.6 billion at the site as they approach the restart of the refinery, and (3) At present, 91 percent of the Full Time employees and 50 percent of their Senior Management Employees are U.S. Virgin Islands residents as defined in the Terminal Operating Agreement.

He told the Committee that Limetree completed construction of new, larger crude pumps that allow them to export crude at a rate of 45,000 barrels per hour and important to be able to serve their largest customer. He added that Limetree also completed construction of a new Marine Vapor Control Unit to reduce emissions from gasoline loading and the unit was commissioned on February 17, 2019.

Lever indicated, “The Refinery restart project is 75-percent complete and has resulted in the employment of over 4,000 employees”. With the support of the government including the Legislature, Limetree remains committed to increasing long term employment at the refinery and the Terminal. CEO Lever shared that 68 students have recently completed their Basic Operator Training Program and are now qualified to function as operators at the refinery and terminal and approximately 60 positions are vacant within the refinery.

Nathalie Hodge, Assistant Commissioner of the Dept. of Licensing and Consumer Affairs said her agency does not have any issue regarding Limetree Bay’s compliance with maintaining a current business license, nor has it been apprised of any infraction regarding failure to register vacancies with the V.I. Dept. of Labor. According to her, over the years, DLCA and DOL have collaborated effectively in prosecuting entities that fail to register their vacancies.

Gary Molloy, Commissioner of DOL, stated that the Construction phase of the refinery is 80-percent completed and can expect the number of persons employed to drastically ramp down from the 3,936 over the next few weeks to end the 2019 year with a total of 2,100 sub-contractors with more reductions through February of 2020.

Commissioner Molloy told the Committee that they have not received any formal complaints in the Workers Compensation area; however, they have received anonymous tips that there may be unsafe working conditions at the plant. Furthermore, they also received tips that not all workers are offered Worker’s Compensation and continue to investigate these concerns.

He added that three (3) discrimination charges have been filed against three separate subcontractors, each charge has been reviewed busing their intake procedure and forwarded to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for further investigation.

Kirk Callwood, Sr, Executive Director, Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority said presently, Limetree is making its quarterly variable payments totaling approximately $10 million annually, based on 9-percent of gross revenues. However, he added, this would increase to 10-percent in any year that earnings before interest, depreciation and taxes exceeds $120 million and cannot be less than $7 million.

According to Executive Director Callwood, Limetree is anticipating restarting the refinery in the quarter of 2020 and following the restart, Limetree will begin making quarterly refinery payments in lieu of taxes totaling $22.5 million but cannot be less than $4 million or more than $70 million annually.

Other testifiers were Jean-Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of the Dept. of Planning & Natural Resources and Carl Christopher, a resident of St. Croix.

Committee members at Wednesday’s hearing were: Chairwoman Alicia V. Barnes, Senators Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Kenneth Gittens, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas and Javan James, Sr. Non-Committee members present were: Senators Kurt Vialet, Novelle Francis, Jr., and Donna Frett-Gregory.

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Senate President Announces Closure of the Legislature in Both Districts

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Due to the inclement weather expected from Tropical Storm Dorian, Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr. has announced that the Legislature of the Virgin Islands in both districts will be closed on Wednesday, August 28th, 2019.
Additionally, the Committee of the Whole that was scheduled for Thursday, August 29th, 10:00 am on St. Croix has also been cancelled.
The Senate President urges all residents to take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety during the passage of Tropical Storm Dorian.

Finance Committee Considers FY 2020 Budgets for the VI Bureau of Corrections, Economic Development Authority, and the VI Energy Office

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet continued to meet Tuesday afternoon in the UVI Great Hall, Albert Sheen Campus, St. Croix regarding the FY 2020 Fiscal Year Budget for the VI Bureau of Corrections (VIBOC); Economic Development Authority (EDA); and VI Energy Office (VIEO).

Wynnie Testamark, Director of VIDOC said in her testimony, for FY 2020, their proposed budget is $34,369,823. This represents an increase of only $252,985 over FY2019.

According to her, Personnel Costs are the Bureau’s greatest expense. The Bureau has 215 authorized positions and 74 vacancies. That means, she added, that 34-percent of its positions are unfilled.

The Director pointed out that, projected payroll for the upcoming FY is $14,635,940. Fringe benefits for its employees amount to $5,960,987. She added that for FY 2020, payroll and fringe benefits account for almost 60-percent of the total budget.

Director Testamark told the Committee that VIBOC remains chronically understaffed.  Accordingly, there are 65 correctional officers at Golden Grove—the consent decree requires 74 officers. At the Alexander Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas there are 30 correctional officers—the consent decree requires 63.

Testamark also noted that, until these acute staffing shortages are resolved, two things will continue to happen—the VI will find it very difficult to come out from under the federal consent decrees and the Bureau will continue to spend large amounts on correctional officer overtime.

According to the Director, in FY 2018, the Bureau spent approximately $ 3,833,196 in overtime.  In contrast, she added, if they were able to fill all the vacant correctional officer positions, their overtime in FY2020 budget would be approximately $810,000.

Another critical problem said the Director is that a chunk of the Bureau’s budget goes to pay vendors—companies and professionals who provide critical service to the Bureau and its inmates and detainees.

The Director stated, the Virgin Islands should build an 800-bed facility on St. Croix and a 300-bed facility on St. Thomas. She pointed out that the VI is not currently in the position to fund the capital outlays required for these new facilities; that’s why the Bureau is considering alternative funding arrangements, including the possibility of a public/private partnership with for profit.

According to her, right now they are paying approximately $7.4 million annually (not inclusive of medical care and incidentals) to house prisoners off island, and an estimated $71,000 a month for experts and monitors to ensure compliance with consent decree.

Regarding the release of prisoners back into the community, the Director said, the Bureau is looking to the success of the Federal Prison Industries program and the Second Chance Act of 2007 as a guide in offering training and services to aid the reentry of prisoners. 

Kamal Latham, Chief Executive Officer, VIEDA said, the Authority’s funding request for FY 2020 reflects a bold and ambitious approach to economic development, it represents an increase of $ 1 million over the $5,882,865, that was appropriated for FY 2019.

According to Latham, this increase will go towards business marketing because they believe that this is an area that will yield a high return on investment to promote economic growth, job creation, and wealth generation.

He said, they intend to recruit 50 new companies over the next two years, potentially contributing: 250 new jobs to the local workforce; $12-27.4 million in wages and salaries; $6 million in capital investments; and $2.5 million in charitable contributions.

Some of the Authority’s FY 2019 Selected Accomplishments to date were: approved an extension of tax-incentive benefits for a major hotel that plans to invest over $200 million to bring its property back online, which would employ over 400 full-time employees. Approved 6 new loans totaling approximately $1.3 million and reviewed another 7 seven loan applications totaling $1.6 million.

Others were: Applied for $100,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for a food incubator in St. Croix; reduced the loan delinquency rate to two percent after restructuring and refinancing of troubled loans; and presented 9 applications and 8 petitions to EDC Board for consideration.

Kyle Fleming, Director of VIEO said the General Fund for FY 2020 Budget appropriation is $1,343,015 which represents an increase of $27,203 from FY 2019. This increase was based on additional Fringe Benefits, Supplies, and Utilities.

According to Fleming, FY 2020 grant award is anticipated at $407,450 and the Weatherization Assistance Program appropriation is projected at $510,518.

According to Fleming, VIEO finds itself at an interesting crossroad relative to its opportunities to generate meaningful impacts throughout the community. 0000000000000


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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet in its afternoon budget hearing on Thursday at the UVI Great Hall, St. Croix, took testimony from the Department of Tourism (DOT) regarding its FY 2020 Budget request.

Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of DOT said to support the initiatives and fiduciary responsibilities of the department, the FY 2020 budget request is $31,857,622 which include the General Fund for $3,472,622 and the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund in the amount of $28,385,000.

According to Boschulte, this budget category funding is requested for 43 full-time positions in the amount of $2,455,913. Of those positions, 16 are newly created for the recently enacted Festival Division. He added that $1,385,000 is to be used to market and promote the Territory’s three major carnival celebrations.

The DOT Commissioner pointed out that of the $1,385,000, the Crucian Christmas Festival will be allotted $520,000; the Virgin Islands Carnival in St. Thomas at $545,000 and the St. John Festival at $320,000. Additionally, $1 Million will go towards developing and promoting Sports Tourism.

Boschulte told the Committee that accordance with Legislative Acts, the fund also provides financial support to other agencies such as $150,000 for the Bureau of Economic Research; $1,000,000-Department of Agriculture; $850,000-VI Police Department; $500,000-Department of Education; $500,000-Sports, Parks and Recreation; $300,000-Department of Public Works; and $300,000-VI Waste Management Authority.

He added that non-appropriation funding in the amount of $26 million has been earmarked for the DOT’s day-to-day operations, to exclude marketing and promotion of the Territory as a premier tourism destination.

Regarding hotels, the Commissioner said, the recovery from the devastating blows our tourism industry received from the two Category 5 hurricanes, has been gradual, but encouraging. He pointed out that currently, most of our traditional hotel accommodations are still undergoing reconstruction and repairs.

According to him several major properties that anticipated reopening by the end of the calendar year 2019, are delayed through 2020, negatively impacting the collection of hotel room tax revenues. He added that the VI Bureau of Internal Revenue reported Hotel Room Tax collection, as of April 2019 amounted to $14,512,892, up from $9,057,209 for the same period in 2018.

In the matter of the cruise lines, the Commissioner told the Committee that they are confident that they will witness continued improvement in this segment. So far, he added, for FY 2019, St. Thomas has received a total of 619,610 passengers versus 573,466 passengers arriving during the same period in 2018. St. Croix received 30,820 passengers versus 48,836 passengers in 2018.

Speaking of accomplishments, Boschulte said, one key accomplishment is that there have been 971 media placements with over 2.8 billion impressions and an advertising value of more that $218 million between October 2018 and June 2019. This represents, he added, an increase in year-over-year Public Relations Value of 1,778 percent. s.overla


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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet received testimony in the morning session of a budget hearing on Thursday in the UVI Great Hall, St. Croix regarding Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for the VI Department of Education (VIDE); VI Board of Education (VIBE); and the Career and Technical Education Board (CTEB).

In her testimony, Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner, VIDE said $179,789,546 has been recommended for FY 2020 from the General Fund. This includes $103,398,438 for Personnel Services; $45,325,527 for Fringe Benefits; $4,075,900 for Supplies; $20,953,305 for Other Services and Charges; $5,895,376 for Utilities; and $150,000 for Capital Outlay.

This appropriation represents, she added, a net increase of $7,464,543 more than total funds received under the General Fund for FY 2019.  This increase is attributed to additional funding under the Other Services category for repairs and maintenance, professional services, security services, training and travel costs.

According to the Commissioner, the increase also consists of $2,337,5000 earmarked for specific programs and grants that are normally funded under the miscellaneous section of the budget submission.

In respect to federal funds, she pointed out that, for FY 2020, VIDE anticipates receiving federal grant awards of approximately $30,842,938. These grants are awarded by the United States’ Department of Education (USDE) and Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, the department is currently managing another $39,560,627 in federal grants through the USDE for FY 2016-2018.

According to her, all programs have developed detailed and aggressive spending and action plans in order to obligate $13,316,258 in FY 2016-2017 grant funds set to expire on September 30, 2019.

In a presentation to the Committee, Dionne Wells-Hedrington Ed.D., Chief Operation Officer said, the VIDE’s physical plant is comprised of 45 schools and administrative support facilities within both districts. This would require approximately $20 million per year to maintain, as determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to her, the average age of VIDE buildings is nearly 50 years old, with many have been built 70 years ago, and one building in use that was built in the 1800s. She pointed out that the schools were in continuous state of deuteriation, crumbling under the weight of $70, million of deferred maintenance before Hurricanes Irma and Maria. To date, a total of approximately $116,509,712, in FEMA funds has been obligated for emergency and temporary repair work.

According to other testimony, a total allocation of approximately $4,722,027.59 are funded through the Consolidated Grant under the Rural and Low-Income School Program (RLIS). The funds include: $279,976.15 for Administration and Technical Support; $1,245,783.31-Alternative Education; $324,044.67-Educator Quality and Professional Development; and $143,897.53-English Langue Leaners.

In addition to the above, there were also: $295,727.33 for Parent and Community Engagement; $387,196.16-Safe and Healthy Schools; $485,967.98-Technology Integration for Students Success; and $1,559,434.42-Well Rounded Students. It was pointed out that the balance of the STT/STJ District funds are allocated to non-public schools for their supplemented programs in the amount of $1,743,855.77.

Commissioner Berry-Benjamin said, for VIDE to address emergencies and other urgent matters, they respectfully request a lump sum appropriation for FY 2020.

Arah Lockhart, Chairperson of the VIBE said their FY 2020 Budget operational request is $1,760,721. There is also a request for $1,305,966 in the Miscellaneous section of the General Fund for scholarships and special grants. Accordingly, the total FY 2020 lump sum request is $3,066,687 which will cover Personnel Services at $813,797; Capital Outlays $50,000; Fringe Benefits $343,418; Supplies $42,394; Other Services and Charges $466,112; and Special Legislative Grants $1,305,966.

According to Lockhart, in FY 2018, the VIBE collected approximately $522,234 in loan repayment and in FY 2019 to date, they have collected approximately $424,986 as of July 16, 2019. The Committee was informed that VIBE is actively seeking assistance in ensuring that non-payment of the financial indebtedness can be reported to credit bureaus. Their available funding for scholarships, grants, and awards comes from a Special Legislative Awards of $753,150 and Loan/Grants Award of $552,816.

Lockhart told Committee members that for FY 2019, they have certified 113 professionals in the St. Thomas/St. John districts and 110 professionals in the St. Croix district.

Ronnie Jones, Board Chair of CTEB said their formal request for FY 2020 is $509,250.  In his testimony, he focused on a list of goals that were submitted to the legislature and a previous hearing. He added that the Board was hoping that additional board appointees were available to carry out the work required to achieve many of the goals presented.

According to Jones, the Board supported CTE programs by assisting with the procurement of books and materials. Explore potential new career programs that could augment the current CTE program offerings. Search avenues to support CTE programs financially. And, provide CTE students with opportunities to explore new and emerging careers in technology as well as having real life exposure to their chosen field.

The calling for a lump sum budget, by the various educational entities for FY 2020, Committee Chairman, Sen. Vialet said he would not adhere to that factor, instead the committee will move to line-item their budget based upon specific needs such as maintenance and supplies.

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