Author: Omari Hicks

LAWMAKERS CONSIDERS ZONING REQUESTS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the 31st Legislature, led by Senate President Neville James, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on several zoning request applications including Alford S. Richards Sr., – To amend the Official Zoning Map No. SJZ-1 from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood) for Parcel No. 29 Estate Susannaberg No. 17A Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John.

According to a memorandum submitted by Yvonne Tharpes, Legal Counsel of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, it suggested to postpone the hearing in order to allow St. John Residents to express their concerns as it pertains to this zoning request.

 

However, lawmakers did not want to further delay the meeting.

“The zoning hearing that was scheduled for November 21st was cancelled due to inclement weather,” said Sen. James. He continued, “Considering that the 31st Legislature is coming to a close, instead of prolonging this zoning request, we should at least receive testimony on it. There will be no voting on any of the zoning requests today.”

Leia Laplace Matthew, Territorial Planner for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) stated that the purpose of this request is to lease the site for a water delivery business to operate from and store water trucks. She also recommended approval of the petition.

Similarly, Kelly Davis, Planning Technician for DPNR also gave a favorable recommendation. She said, “The current use is that it is vacant land with an abandon tennis court. The property is surrounded by condominiums on the north and there is vacant land on the east and west.

Sen. Marvin Blyden asked, “Once approved, would the project move forward immediately?” In response, Stylish Willis, Law Offices of Willis said, “When this zoning request was originally submitted, we learned that the area was considered residential. Therefore, as soon as it is approved, the Water Companies that the property is leased to, will begin using the land for commercial use.”

“How many water trucks will be using the site?” asked Sen. Blyden. In response, Willis stated that there will be approximately three to four water trucks and four to five heavy equipment that will occupy the land.”

Sen. Clifford Graham asked, “Where is the property located on St. John?” Willis said, “It is located right off the main road.” Sen. Graham said, “I know that area very well. Although, the property is zoned as residential, it is surrounded by a lot of businesses.” Willis added that the land has been used for commercial use for many years.

“How would maneuvering large vehicles impact the traffic?” inquired Sen. Jean Forde. Willis said, “According to the lease agreement, the property is approximately three acres. Therefore, there will not be an issue for the trucks to access the land. There isn’t a lot of traffic on the main road, so I don’t foresee traffic congestion of any sort.”

Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly asked, “Are all of the taxes current on the property?” Willis stated the property taxes are current.

Separately, lawmakers also received testimony on other zoning requests including:

  • Dale LeFebvre- Authorized Agent Stephanie Berry – To amend Official Zoning Map No. STZ-9 – Application No. ZAT-16-3- requesting that a use variance be granted to the R-2 (Residential-Low Density One and Two Family) zoned Parcel Nos. 19-2-101 and 19-2-102 Estate Smith Bay, Nos. 1, 2 & 3 East End Quarter, St. Thomas Purpose: To utilize a portion of his residence as his business’ office space
  • Sergio Laplante – To amend Official Zoning Map No. STZ-11, Application No. ZAT-16-6; requesting a use variance be granted to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) zoned Plot Nos. 52 and 54, First Avenue (combined), First Subdivision of Estate Thomas, St. Thomas Purpose: To operate a restaurant out of a food van
  • Development Partners International, LLC – Authorized Agent David A. Bornn, Esq, – To amend the Official Zoning Map No. STZ-10 – Application No. ZAT 16-7 from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to W-1 9(Waterfront-Pleasure) for Parcel Nos. 6L-remainder and 6L-25 Estate Nazareth, No. 1 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas Purpose: To consolidate the lots and subdivide into four residential lots, a utility lot and parking for residences on Parcels No. 6L-30 Estate Nazareth. It will be part of a larger residential and accessory development, to include Parcel Nos. 6L-30 and 6L-24 Estate Nazareth

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COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CHARLOTTE AMALIE DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

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ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning, chaired by Sen. Janette Millin Young received an update on Tuesday concerning the suspension of the Charlotte Amalie Downtown Revitalization Project.

Chairman Millin Young scheduled today’s Committee meeting because she requested and is still awaiting correspondence from the Departments of Public Works, Property & Procurement on the status of this project. “The delay of this project impacts the day-to-day business in the downtown area and directly affects the heart of the V.I. economy.”

On November 7, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) notified the Government of the Virgin Islands of its decision to suspend the contract awarded to Tip Top Construction. According to Federal regulation 23 CFR 635.125, all contracts exceeding the amount of $10,000 shall contain suitable provisions for termination by the State/Territory, including the manner by which the termination will be effected and the basis for settlement.

President of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, Sabastiano Paiewonski-Castinelli stated, “If Tip Top Construction cannot fulfill their contractual obligations in full compliance with federal regulations that it is in our best interest to secure another contract in order to complete this project.”

The Teaming Agreement and intent to subcontract between Tip Top Construction and Prestige Building Company, LLC, was not disclosed throughout the bidding process or after the contract was awarded by the Government of the Virgin Islands. Private sector entities such as the Chamber of Commerce (COC) and Downtown Revitalization Inc., (DRI) gave testimony on their challenges with maintaining communication with the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Property & Procurement.

“As a private sector entity, we have attempted to work in total collaboration with the DPW to make the flow of information as smooth and easy as possible for Main Street businesses, residents and visitors,” said Gautam Daswani, President of DRI. “The DRI is concerned and willing to assist in all efforts to restore and reauthorize funding for this project.”

Wystan Benjamin, Former Highway Program Manager of the Department of Public Works, submitted his testimony seeking closure for his unexplained termination. While employed by the DPW led his team by assessing and awarding contracts based on the lowest, responsible bidder. Attorney General Claude O. Walker also informed the Committee that he discussed the letter received from the FHWA with the Commissioners of Public Works and Property & Procurement, but has no knowledge of a plan of action in light of the contract suspension.

The Committee took no action, as the meeting served as a status update on the project.

The Committee of the Whole will convene today at 6:00 p.m. at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.

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LAWMAKERS CONSIDER BILL TO REQUIRE CREDIT UNIONS IN THE TERRITORY TO BE FEDERALLY CHARTERED

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dsc_3831ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford Graham, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on several bills including Bill No. 31-0369; as it relates to the establishment of credit unions and for their oversight.
Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Division Director for the Division of Banking and Insurance said, “Our safest course of action is to require all credit unions be federally chartered and come within preview of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).”
Some of the responsibilities of the NCUA are the issuance of interpretative rulings, financial performance reports, legal opinion letters, strict rules and regulations, reviews every three years, and the ability to examine chartered credit unions and issue Administrative Orders when it finds that a credit union or persons affiliated with credit union is in violation of the law, according to Director Brady.
“In your testimony, you mentioned the annual oversight visits of the credit unions by external auditors,” said Sen. Graham, Sponsor of the Bill. “How often are the audits conducted?” he asked. In response, Director Brady said, “The audits are conducted once a year by external and federal auditors. Upon completion, the reports are sent to NCUA for further review.”
Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “NCUA regulation comes with a cost.” He asked, “What costs are affiliated with NCUA?” Brady stated that there are fees that must be paid to NCUA. The formula is based on the risk associated with a particular credit union. The financial portfolio and losses will determine the cost per credit union.
Chief Executive Officer Keisha Prince, NCRM, NCBSO added, “Although, NCUA can be difficult because it comes with a cost. However, their oversight ensures sounds management of credit unions. NCUA performs regulatory services and evaluate credit unions based on capital adequacy, management responsibilities, earnings, liquidity and market sensitivity.”
Sen. Marvin Blyden said, “I support this legislation because it is gives the Territory an upgrade by raising the standards of the credit unions. More importantly, it provides financial protection to the people of the Virgin Islands.
Similarly, Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “This is one of those bills that makes plain sense.” He asked, “Were the victims of Her Majesty Credit Union reimbursed for their loss?” Director Brady said, “If Her Majesty Credit Union had been a legitimate operation and established under a federal charter through NCUA, then its accounts would have been insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, therefore, consumer interests would have been protected.”

Sen. Positive Nelson said, “Updating our laws to keep us in alignment is a very good thing. However, my main issue is that credit unions should have never been authorized by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs because jurisdiction should be under the Division of Banking. If this was the case, regulation of Her Majesty Credit Union would not have slipped through the cracks.”
Ultimately, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 31-0369.
The following measures were also considered and approved:
– Bill No. 31-0443 – An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 20 to enact “The Virgin Islands Risk-Based Capital for Insurers Act”
– Bill No. 31-0444 – An Act repealing Title 22 Virgin Islands Code Section 1251(a) and adding Chapter 14 entitled “The Virgin Islands Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act” to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and update the insurance laws of the Territory placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions, and providing greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory

– Bill No. 31-0445 – An Act repealing and re-enacting Title 22 Virgin Islands Code chapter 31 to enact the “Virgin Islands Producer and Adjuster Licensing Act”
– Bill No. 31-0446 -An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 60 to enact “The Virgin Islands Third Party Administrators Act”, updating the insurance laws of the Territory to reflect the licensing requirements contained in the model laws of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners
– Bill No. 31-0398- An Act repealing title 33, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 12, section 525 relating to the rate of duty on articles shipped from within the U.S. Customs Zone.
– Bill No. 31-0442 -An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code Title 3, 9, and 22 to update the Insurance Laws of the Territory and to adopt the Core Standards and Model Laws and Regulations as established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) for purposes of obtaining accreditation with the NAIC, placing the Territory on par with other United States jurisdictions and attaining greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory
All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further
consideration.
Senators present are Clifford Graham, Novelle Francis, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach, Nereida O’Reilly and Kurt Vialet.
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COMMITTEE HOLDS BILL FOR JUDICIARY RETIREMENT BENEFITS PROGRAM

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ST.THOMAS—The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford F. Graham, met Wednesday at the
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, where they held a measure regarding the retirement benefit program for
members of the Judiciary and for other related purposes.
Bill No. 31-0244, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens, repeals a section of the code (770l) and
reintroduces an amended version that clarifies ambiguities relative to annuities, vesting periods, and
removes Government Employees Retirement System’s authority over deferred compensation. Legislators
moved to hold the measure. It was so ordered without objection.
“The law provides that their compensation, to include their pension benefits, are not to be changed midstream
of their term,”explained Sen. Gittens. “We have been seeing some changes and this bill seeks to
clarify what is happening. We need to realize that these individuals who serve as judicial officers are
people who we call upon to be fair and just in their decision making and it is only right for us to ensure
that the fair and just decision making occurs for all aspects,” he said.
Sen. Graham asked officials to explain the effect of increasing the cost of insurance.
“If the cost of insurance for members of the Government of the Virgin Islands increases, you are saying
that that’s in violation of the law with respect to judge’s salary, he asked.
Robert Molloy, who serves as a Judge of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, clarified that in other
jurisdictions with similar legislation, “you cannot reduce the take home compensation of a judicial
officer”.
Other lawmakers weighed in.
“What we’re discussing is an unfunded liability,” said Sen. Vialet. “I think we’re going to have to make
the determination today as to whether or not, once again, the Legislature is going to enter into [another]
unfunded liability and the system at a later point, will point out that the mandate was unfunded,” he said.
Members of the judiciary present spoke in favor of the measure and provided some recommendations for
areas in the proposed amendments to tighten the language, removing any residual ambiguity.
“Although one of the core purposes of Bill No. 31-0244 is to eliminate GERS’ ability to set contribution
rates for members of the Judiciary,” said Hon. Rhys S. Hodge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the
Virgin Islands “reference to retirement contribution payments from the employer could be interpreted to
allow GERS to require such a payment.”
“This not only undercuts the purpose of Bill No.31-0244, but poses serious constitutional questions as to
its legality if applied retroactively to the current members of Tier I,” he said.
Changing the language to reflect a contribution rate change from 15% to 11% for contributions paid by
Tier I members would resolve that conflict, Justice Hodge added.

Austin L. Nibbs, Administrator at GERS also weighed in.
“We are extremely concerned that this piece of legislation, which we term as ‘Special Interest Legislation’
is being offered at time when there is an ongoing appeal hearing related to the same issues before the
Board with a sitting member of the Judiciary,” he said.
Others present disagreed with Nibbs however, pointing out that the legislation was presented before the
appeal hearing began. Senators also added that they expected to hear more than the generic response of
insolvency by 2023.
“We just cannot continue to set rates based on a particular argument and then knowing that it’s going to
come back to haunt the Government of the Virgin Islands. All of those previous [pieces of] legislation is
what destroyed the Government Employees Retirement System,” Vialet said.
The committee also held Bill No. 31-0459 relating to the distribution of the proceeds of taxes collected
and deposited into the Virgin Islands Sin Taxing Revolving Fund and Bill No. 31-0441, establishing the
office of the public surveyor.

Committee Chair, Sen. Clifford F. Graham and members, Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Positive T.A.
Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach and Kurt A. Vialet, were present. Non-committee members Senators Kenneth
L. Gittens and Novelle E. Francis Jr., were also present.

 

Contact: Saida Harrigan
sharrigan@legvi.org

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