Category: Press Releases

FIRST AMERICAN HEALTH CARE ACT TASK FORCE MEETING HELD ON MONDAY

Download PDF

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) Task Force held its first meeting Monday morning, March 20, 2017 at the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) office in Sunny Isle.

In attendance were the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, leadership of the federally qualified health centers, the hospitals, and AARP, members of the Virgin Islands Legislature, the Virgin Islands Source, representatives from the Women’s March, and representatives from the Office of Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett. As a cost saving measure, video and audio technology were made available at each respective location to connect representatives on St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Washington D.C.

The task force is the result of the roundtable discussion held last week. The discussion focused on reform, challenges, and processes in the areas of presumptive eligibility and emergency room visits; expanding enrollees in the Medical Assistance Program (MAP); patient care follow-up under MAP; maximizing utilization of the clinics and urgent care centers; prescriptions and medication; and off-island care.

Stakeholders also shared each of their agencies respective strategies to combat the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In addition, an act sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly to privatize the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center was discussed. It is conceivable that privatization would relieve the local government of some financial strain, as well as ensure the provision of quality healthcare in the Virgin Islands.

The meeting ended on a few positive notes, demonstrating officials’ commitment to delivering quality health care. Fast track in the hospital will re-launch April 20, 2017. Three out of the eight health clinics have qualified to participate in the National Health Services Corp for loan repayment of clinicians. Mechanisms have already been put in place to address presumptive eligibility. The office of Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett shared its ongoing efforts to discuss the effects the AHCA would have on the Virgin Islands with the administration. The game plan is that each agency move forward with its strategies. Stakeholders will meet again in April to share the progress made with their plans.

 

###

COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATES ON FOOD & GAS PRICES, 65TH CARNIVAL CELEBRATION, AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Workforce Development, Consumer Affairs and Culture, chaired by Sen. Myron D. Jackson, met on Tuesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive status updates and discuss challenges within the Departments of Labor, Licensing & Consumer Affairs, the Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Commission and the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee.

The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, represented by Commissioner Devin Carrington, Esq., gave testimony outlining the issues with their responsibility of regulating businesses that engage in the sale of goods and services in the territory. Although the DLCA is authorized to implement price control measures on specific essential consumer commodities, no such measure has been taken by the department in the last eleven years.

The DLCA, in conjunction with the Dept. of Justice is currently conducting a study on gas and food prices. The contract for this study, which is exclusively focused on the US Virgin Islands, was awarded to a third-party. “Now, the study is in its final stages of completion and should be available in the next two months,” Commissioner Carrington clarified.

The Virgin Islands Carnival Committee, provided a brief testimony on the Committee’s observance of the Centennial Celebration. Executive Director, Halvor Hart III, announced that the 2017 Carnival theme is “A Centennial Commemoration for Our 65th Carnival Celebration”. In addition to the celebration, this year’s Prince, Princess, Queen & Calypso monarch will become the 1st Centennial royalty of the Virgin Islands. In addition to the $5 entry fee into the Adults village, three entry and safety checkpoints will be established around the venue. Free admission into the Carnival village applies to children ages 12 and under. Questions concerning safety and admission were raised, noting that the stage will be constructed on the east side of the Fort Christian parking lot.

Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen disagreed with the idea that a fence should be used around the perimeter of the Village and disappointed with the lack of moral and financial support for local bands and artists during cultural events.

In response to an inquiry by Sen. Brian Smith, the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee receives an annual allotment of $545,000 from the General Fund. Other sources of funding are received in kind from businesses in the private sector. Chairman Jackson understood the need for revenues and profit margins, but stated that it should our profit not come at the cost of the participants and visitors attending the festivities.

Commissioner Catherine Hendry, Esq., of the Department of Labor expressed in her testimony, “Our mission is to administer a system of effective programs and services designed to develop, protect and maintain a viable workforce. We work to achieve a well-organized/efficient motivated team that helps to ensure the success of our territory in a global economy through pooling and streamlining our resources “to pull out all the stops” and produce a work ready labor force that is dynamic, career driven, adaptable, technically literate, protected and can meet the needs of employers in a demand driven work environment.”

The Dept. of Labor faces many challenges with their federal programs and training services in the territory. On December 20, 2016, they were notified by USDOL Employment and Training Administration that several of the federal grants were designated as “high-risk” due to outstanding unresolved audit and monitoring findings that trace as far back as 2009. Because of the “high-risk” designation, ETA requires VIDOL to implement Corrective Actions in specific areas. “This department has an extensive responsibility of making sure that the workforce of this territory is well prepared with their programs to meet the demands and needs of our modern society,” said Chairman Jackson.

The workforce development system continues to provide workforce development services to both job seeker and employer customers territory wide. These services and related activities are primarily supported through USDOL-ETA funded grants in accordance with guidelines prescribed by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). The Workforce Development team along with its newly mandated program partners, Department of Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Department of Education, Division of Adult Education, have met to facilitate the preparation of the Virgin Islands Five-Year Strategic Plan.

Chairman Pamela Richards of the Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Commission sent a letter explaining the Commission’s absence from today’s meeting. “After much consideration, we have determined that, considering the critical preparations and meetings scheduled to ensure the success of the upcoming events that culminate in our Transfer Day observance on March 31, 2017, we will be unable to provide testimony now.”

The Commission stated that they would be pleased to appear after the activities have been hosted. The Committee on Workforce Development, Consumer Affairs and Culture concluded with the members suggesting the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee to consult with the Virgin Islands Police Department to ensure all viable options are considered in regards to public safety and they begin to consider new plans to alleviate the traffic and parking issues along the Waterfront in Downtown Charlotte Amalie.

###

WAPA GIVES UPDATE ON BASE RATE

Download PDF

St. Croix–The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection, chaired by Senator Sammuel Sanes, met on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.

The Committee heard from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) management team regarding the proposed base rate increase, status of Smart Meter residential installation, and Smart Meter reading practices. Accompanying WAPA’s team were the Chairwoman of WAPA’s Board and the Executive Director, Public Service Commission (PSC).

The Committee also heard from Juan F. Luis Hospital’s (JFLH) Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer, and Waste Management Authority (WMA). Items discussed were, amount owed to WAPA and measures being taken to reduce the debt to the utility.

Julio Rhymer, Executive Director, WAPA, said in his testimony that, the Authority filed for a base rate increase from the PSC because at the time, the Authority was experiencing a severe liquidity problem and lacked adequate cash to pay for operations, to the point that it became necessary to postpone payments to certain vendors, one of which, a former fuel supplier, has sued the Authority.

According to Rhymer, the Authority’s cash shortage at the time stemmed from several factors—declining sales, large government receivable and increased cost of operation. He pointed out to the Committee that the Authority wanted approximately $14.5 million that would have given it the much-needed cash infusion to continue with its operation.

The action taken by PSC to approve the base rate increase and then rescinded on it said Rhymer, has stunned and is a concern to investors. In so doing, the Moody’s Investor Services downgraded the electric system senior and subordinate electric system revenue bonds.

In respect to the status of Smart Meter residential installation( AMI),  Rhymer stated that the AMI is designed to, among other things, automate the meter reading process, improve the accuracy of meter reads, expedite billing, permit remote switching of a customers’ electric services at the meter, minimize meter tampering through a system of alarms, permit pay-as-you-go service delivery, and allow customers to monitor and adjust their consumption based on real time information about electric use and cost.

Elizabeth Armstrong, Chair, Governing Board, WAPA said in her testimony that WAPA’s financial outlook is directly tied to the revenues generated by the rates it charges its customers for electrical and water services. She added that, beginning at the end of this year or early 2018 when the first set of new generators are expected on island, and continuing through the next several years, WAPA will bring in reliable, efficient generation capacity to the Randolph Harley power plant in St. Thomas.

Armstrong told Committee members that the Board believes that its plan provides the opportunity for WAPA to improve on the past, while supporting the mission of the lowest cost, safe and reliable power for the rate payer.

In an update, as to money owed to WAPA, Roger Merritt, Jr., Executive Director, VIWMA said that, as of February 28, 2017, they owed WAPA $414,324, and that they will be remitting payment in the amount of $240, 000 for the month of February by March 31, 2017, leaving a balance of $174,324.

Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer, SRMC said, despite the fact that SRMC is in an extremely critical financial position, they have remained committed to making payments to WAPA and have done so continuously over the past year. SRMC has made payments totaling approximately $76,000 to WAPA in Fiscal Year 2017. SRMC remits the portion of its allotment that is line itemed for WAPA as soon as it receives its monthly allotment in full. According to Wheatley, their current outstanding obligation to WAPA is $8,166,743.

Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Office JFLH said, current balance to WAPA is $10,567,660. Year to date for Fiscal Year 2017, the hospital has paid WAPA $136,666. He added that the hospital’s current fiscal condition does not allow the hospital to pay its current WAPA bill in part or full. As of today’s date, the hospital has not yet received its February 2017 monthly allotment.

Donald Cole Executive Director, PSC said based on testimony presented in its meetings, it would appear that the AMI/AMR technology is sound; however, consumer service deployment protocols appear to have short-comings resulting in an excessive number of estimated billing complains and concerns.

Other testifiers were Tim Lessing, Chief Financial Officer, JLH, Johann Clendenin, Commissioner, PSC, and Frank Taylor, Jr., St. Resident/Rate Payer.

Committee members at Friday’s hearing were, Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Jean Forde, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Tregenza Roach and Janette Millin Young. Non-Committee members were Senators, Kurt Vialet, Brian Smith, Positive Nelson, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

SCHNEIDER REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER REQUESTS ADDITIONAL FUNDING AND LESS BUDGET REDUCTIONS TO AVOID FISCAL SHORTFALLS

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the 32nd Legislature convened on Friday, for a Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services meeting at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to discuss the current financial challenges of the Schneider Regional Medical Center.

Chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, the meeting began with a testimony from Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Bernard Wheatley. Accompanied by District Governing Board Chairman, Cornel Williams, SRMC’s executive leadership team and medical staff, they outlined their challenges with a comprehensive breakdown of their overall costs, shortfalls and initiatives over the last several years. “The underlying issues are complex and include uncompensated care cost, our reimbursement structure, Medicare and Medicaid underfunding, decreased government appropriations and competition from outpatient surgical centers,” said Dr. Bernard Wheatley.

Significant reductions to SRMC’s appropriations negatively impact the goal of achieving a balanced operating budget. “If you already thought of every option, we should be seeing more progress on your end. I’m noticing a lack of traction here,” Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly expressed in response to comments during a round of questioning.

Schneider Regional’s operating deficit over the past 6 years averages $36,877,000 per year in losses before Government appropriation and $9,284,000 per year after Government appropriations and capital contributions. In December 2016, the total liabilities of SRMC amounts to $46,354,031. Accounts payable to SRMC’s vendors totals $34,981,000 as of 02/01/17, causing a critical situation in which vendors require immediate payment before providing supplies or services and resort to litigation to resolve past due payments.

The total estimated underfunding from uncompensated care for Medicaid and Medicare for FY 2016 is $27,679,160 (per draft cost report). After the local Government contribution of $22,472,518, the total underfunding mandated absorbed by SRMC is $5,206,642. The FY 2017 general fund appropriation of $22,472,518 and makes it difficult to render the full scope of services expected by the community and visitors, and impacts their ability to keep current with vendors.

SRMC’s commercial business has dropped 21% over the past two years. Significant numbers of revenue generating service lines, including orthopedics have migrated away from the hospital’s operating rooms to external surgical facilities. Since 2012, SRMC has seen a decrease of cash collections from this service line of $2,000,000 annually. The dramatic loss of this service line led to the suspension of the elective implants for hips and knees due to the organizations inability to purchase the implants.

Each year, SRMC has had to defer capital improvements or use operating funds to meet “emergency” capital needs. Unlike other similarly positioned hospitals, SRMC does not have the ability to “set aside” funds for regular capital improvements. “Deferred routine maintenance on many of our critical systems have a direct impact on our ability to provide quality healthcare to patients of our facility,” stated CEO Wheatley.

The deferred maintenance items include: Emergency generator repairs, elevator maintenance, fire alarm system, sprinkler repairs and domestic water system repairs. The significant infrastructure capital items include: a roofing system exhibiting signs of severe deterioration, leaking cisterns, and chiller replacement for the operating room. “It does not appear that what you shared with us today and your actions are aligned,” stated Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly.

As the umbrella entity of three facilities in the St. Thomas/St. John district, including the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center and the Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Institute, their goal is to provide comprehensive, quality healthcare to the residents and visitors of the Virgin Islands.

Dr. Wheatley concluded his testimony requesting further consideration to increase the organization’s budgetary allotments to offset its operating loss and to fund depreciation. Based on the projected FY 2017 Operating Budget & Financial Trends, SRMC would need an additional $7.2 million of additional funding.

###

FINANCE COMMITTEE VOTES FAVORABLY FOR SIN TAX MEASURES

Download PDF

The Committee on Finance, Chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, met to receive testimony on and reconsider Bill Nos. 32-0005 and 32-0007 – both bills regarding the Government’s Five-Year Financial Plan – following an early morning protest from members of the private sector who oppose the measures.

Testimonies given by private citizens and the Governor’s financial team conveyed the serious implications if the territory continues to plunge further into fiscal collapse. “At this point, a series of bad decisions were made, without thinking about the future generations,” stated Sen. Vialet.

Bill No. 32-0005, proposed by Sen. Neville James, Sen. Kurt Vialet, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Sen. Myron D. Jackson, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. James, O’Reilly, Vialet, Brian A. Smith, and Marvin A. Blyden. The Bill seeks to amend and enhance revenues for the Territory by implementing excise taxes on tobacco products, alcohol beverages and on sugar carbonated beverages, and the establishment of a new timeshare fee. The Virgin Islands Code currently includes a timeshare occupancy tax of 10.5%.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (“BIR”) will assess on and collect from timeshare owners the existing hotel room occupancy tax of 12.5%. Accordingly, Title II of the bill would repeal the timeshare occupancy tax. In addition, the Act establishes a new timeshare fee, the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee, in the amount of $25.00 per day of occupancy of any timeshare in the Virgin Islands.

The measure also authorizes revenues generated from the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee to be allocated as follows: 25% to the Virgin Islands Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, 50% to the General Fund and 25% to the Hospitals. Section 3 significantly amends Title 33, chapter 3, section 42, which establishes the rates and base for certain excise taxes on imported goods. As currently in effect, the statute imposes very low tax rates on most liquor and tobacco products. Imported beers, for example, are taxed at a rate of $2.08 (for foreign beers) or $1.55 (for U.S. beers) per case or each 24 bottles Whiskies and other liquors are generally taxed at a rate of just $6.00 per case.

The purposed increases in the excise tax rates on liquor and tobacco will provide the benefits of both increasing revenue and supporting public health. Products on which the 20 excise tax rates will include:

Foreign and U.S. beers, from $2.08 and $1.55 per case, respectively, to $6.08 and $5.00; and Cigarettes, from 45% to 45% plus $8.00 per cartoon; and Carbonated beverages, from 3% plus $0.36 per case plus $0.005 per fluid ounce (except those in reusable canisters, which will now be taxed at 4%); For most spirits and liqueurs from $6.00 per case (or $2.50 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value; and for wines and brandies, from $2.04 per case (or $0.85 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value. Cumulatively, the proposed excise tax rate increases, are projected to generate approximately $12.2 million in new revenues annually. Chairman Vialet added that these items in which the taxes are proposed, are not necessities or essential for our consumption.

Bill No. 32-0007, proposed by Sen. Myron D. Jackson and Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. O’Reilly, Jackson, Vialet, Blyden and Smith. This Bill seeks to amend by adding the following language at the end: ‘Commercial real property includes buildings with residences of 5 or more units,’ and Subsection 2301 is amended to include a new subsection to read: ‘In no event, may the application of exemptions and credits reduce the amount of tax due for any real property to an amount less than $360.’ “Times have changed, so there’s no way we can sit here, do nothing, and believe we will be able to move forward and solve our problems.” said Chairman Vialet.

The Bills were both passed favorably to the Committee on Rules & Judiciary for further consideration.

###

SENATE COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CAPITAL PROJECTS FROM WASTE MANAGEMENT, DPNR AND PUBLIC WORKS

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive testimony and current status reports from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA), the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the Department of Public Works.

Roger E. Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, assured the body that under his direction, “The Authority will implement several strategies to overcome our current fiscal constraints.” Merritt Jr., accompanied by Chief Operating Officer Steve Aubin and Chief Engineer Jim Grum, indicated that a significant percentage of their General Fund appropriation is used to maintain critical operational costs for public health, safety and compliance regulations.

The Waste Management Authority noted their appreciation for the $1.7 million appropriation by the 31st Legislature, which delayed the implementation of tipping fees and was used to pay outstanding fees to contractors, provide public hearings and informational handouts for the public. The Public Services Commission (PSC) approved the petition for tipping fees on solid waste collection and disposal services on April 20, 2016. The Authority expects to generate $6.9 million from this plan, that cannot begin until the end of Fiscal Year 2017, due to additional scale-house modifications, weighing scale, compactor repairs and technological systems needed.

The PSC also approved a petition submitted by the WMA to collect special waste fees on electronic waste, freon, lubricating oil and fluorescent light bulbs. The Authority anticipates they will be ready to collect special waste fees by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and expects to generate $1.2 million annually. The Wastewater User Fee (Sewer Fee), which is collected with property taxes, falls short of its expected collection of $3 million annually. To date, the WMA has not received any funds for Fiscal Year 2017, collected $576,000 total for FY 2015 and $856,000 total for FY 2016.

Last fiscal year, a petition was submitted to the PSC to for various miscellaneous wastewater operation fees, specifically overdue septage disposal fees. The fees are expected to cover costs of services in an effort to expand and improve services offered to all residents in our territory. In recent news, the District Court approved the motion to remove the remaining wastewater treatment plants from the 1984 Consent Decree, which brings the WMA closer to full termination of the decree.  “The Authority continues to search and apply for grants to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure, improve solid waste operations and eliminate public unmanned bin sites in the territory,” stated Executive Director Merritt, Jr.

On St. Croix, the Anguilla Landfill is in the process of stabilizing the final slopes of the site, utilizing approximately 160 tons of waste per day and awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a redesign that will develop 2 years worth of airspace available for new waste placement. Upon completion of capital improvements required by the Consent Decrees, the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas will be approved by the EPA for 3 years of airspace available for new waste placement.

The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning received testimony from Commissioner Dawn Henry of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on their ongoing initiatives. The Division of Environmental Protection (EP) recently implemented a new application process that requires all pest companies and applicators to obtain a permit before purchasing Restricted Use Pesticides and specifying where they will be applied in the territory.

The EP officially manages the territory’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and receives $4.8 million annually from the U.S. EPA to assist in improving the territory’s municipal wastewater facilities and storm water systems. To date, the improvements made thus far have resulted in a reimbursement of $7 million to the Department and recoupment of $1.5 million in indirect costs. The Division of Fish and Wildlife received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Services for repairs in St. Croix to the Gallows Bay, Altona Lagoon, and Frederiksted docks. All repairs are estimated to be completed by the end of FY 2017. The Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) joined efforts with the Virgin Islands Port Authority to expedite the application process by making forms available online.

Commissioner Gustav James of the Department of Public Works provided updates on the status of the major capital projects in progress within the territory. Over 25 major roadway projects are in progress or slated to begin in both districts, notably Veterans Drive and the Moravian Highway on St. Thomas, Bordeaux Mountain and Fish Bay on St. John, along with Mahogany Road and Hamm’s Bluff on St. Croix. Commissioner James concluded his testimony by briefly outlining the 5 major non-road projects in progress, such as the St. Croix Fish Market and Fort Christian on St. Thomas.

While commending the testifiers and their employees for their hard work and commitment within their respective agencies, Members of the 32nd Legislature raised serious concerns with the lack of reasonable compensation for employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands.

###

SENATOR RIVERA-O’REILLY HELD FIRST COMMITTEE HEARING AS CHAIRWOMAN

Download PDF

ST. CROIX— Senator Nereida Rivera-O-Reilly chaired her first committee hearing on Friday when the Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services met in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix where testimonies were given by the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFLHMC) officials regarding CMS certification.

In her testimony, Aracelis Bermudez Walcott, Chairperson of the Governing Board of Directors JFLHMC, said the hospital has to continue to be reconstructed, arranged, and maintained to continue to ensure the safety of the patients, visitors and its employees. She added that she would like to see partnerships with other off-island hospitals for specialty areas such as neonatology, infectious disease and neurosurgeries.

Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Officer said the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a 12-page statement of deficiencies they found with JFLHMC regarding the physical environment. According to the CEO, CMS called for a plan of corrections to address their findings which he said mainly stemmed from issues related the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

The CEO told committee members that the hospital sent CMS on January 9, 2017, a revised plan of correction to address their concerns and a number of attachments that provide evidence of the steps taken to address the cited deficiencies. He added that the hospital believes the document submitted will ensure compliance as the hospital undertakes long-term capital projects to upgrade the hospital’s physical environment.

Speaking specifically regarding correcting the deficiencies, Evangelista pointed out that a request for proposal was sent out on January 27, 2017 to qualified architectural and engineering firms to provide professional services relating to planning, development, design and construction of a new HVAC infrastructure, roofing and electrical upgrades and repairs to associated systems within the healthcare facility.

The Chief Financial Officer, Tim Lessing, faced several questions from committee members including the resignation of the Acting Chief Financial Officer, Michael Younger. He told the committee that Younger was not fired; but resigned for personal reasons.

The JFLHMC officials were told that they were micro-managing the hospital which poses a problem in regards to its proper functioning and that the Governing Board was part and parcel to the many problems JFLHMC is facing today, specifically their pettiness and back-stabbing.

Both the Chairwoman, Senator Rivera O’Reilly and Senator Kurt Vialet spoke of the possibility of abolishing the District Boards by transferring all of its functions to the Territorial Board.

Committee members at Friday’s hearing were Senators Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes, Dwayne DeGraff and Novelle Francis, Jr. Non-Committee member was Senator Alicia Hansen.

 

###

LAWMAKERS RECEIVE AN UPDATE ON THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE TERRITORY

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education, Youth and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on the current status of the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE).

VIDOE is facing insurmountable fiscal, administrative and operational challenges,” said Commissioner of Education Sharon McCollum.

Some of the challenges includes continuing deterioration of the physical conditions of the public schools, the need for an additional $70,000-$90,000 to complete Capital Improvement Projects in regards to deferred maintenance projects, a reduction of 7,128 meals served in the School Breakfast Program and a total of 98 teacher vacancies in core areas such as Elementary Education, Science and Foreign Language, according to Commissioner McCollum.

“The issues are real. The leaks are real. The issue of mold is real. The lack of equipment in the classrooms are real. The shortage of teachers is real,” said Sen. Forde.

Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “Can you share some of the challenges of the budget cuts as it pertains to the Impact Statement that VIDOE submitted to the Office of Management and Budget?” Muriel Fenton, Director of Financial Reporting and Program Quality Assurance said, “The Impact Statement mainly refers to maintenance needs as well as ongoing contracts such as security and transportation.” Commissioner McCollum added that $800,000 is set aside for ongoing contracts which leaves very little funds for maintenance projects. “We simply need more money,” said Commissioner McCollum.

Sen. Neville James said, “The lack of maintenance in the public schools impacts everything because teachers have to work in the classroom. There are schools in the territory that are almost 50 years old that requires an upgraded infrastructure.” Sen. James continued, “My focus really is to get a better financial foundation so that improvements can be made in the Department of Education.”

Separately, Sen. Forde asked, “What were the findings of the audit?” In response, Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent of the St. Croix District said, “We have a chief financial officer who oversees the finances of the schools. Overall, principals are doing well with following the guidelines in terms of spending.” Dionne Wells-Hendrington, Insular Superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John District stated that they had a similar report. “Are the reports of the audit made public?” asked Sen. Forde. Commissioner McCollum stated that all of the reports are public and can be distributed upon request.

Despite VIDOE funding deficiencies, academically, students are showing signs of improvement in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

Sen. Brian Smith asked, “How does the student’s 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessments differ from 2015?” “In ELA, the percent of students that met or exceeded standards as of Spring 2016 was 20%, which is an increase of three percentage points from the 2015 for the Smarter Balanced Assessments,” said Alexandria Baltimore-Hookfin, Director of State Assessment. She added that the percentage of students who fell in the lowest performance category in Math has decreased as well.

“Are we meeting requirements in terms of having sufficient ELA teachers in the classrooms?” asked Sen. Smith. In response, Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent of the St. Croix said currently there are a shortage of teachers. However, VIDOE has purchased online learning resources to accommodate students with ELA.”

Similarly, Sen. Tregenza Roach asked, “What is the status of the nursing vacancies?” Commissioner McCollum said, “We are being creative by utilizing retired nurses who are happy to come on board.”

###

 

BILL NO. 32-0001

Download PDF

BILL NO. 32-0001

32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands

This bill organizes the 32nd Legislature, and establishes the Majority Caucus, elects the officers, establishes the standing committees, appoints the committee chairs, committee vice chairs and committee members, and adopts the Rules of the 32nd Legislature.

• Senator Myron D. Jackson-President

• Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly-Vice-President

• Senator Jean Forde-Secretary

• Senator Neville James-Majority Leader

• Senator Jean Forde-Secretary for Intergovernmental & Territorial Affairs

• Senator Marvin Blyden-Liaison to the United States Congress

• Senator Brian A. Smith-Liaison to the United States Dept. of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs

• Senator Sammuel Sanes-Liaison to the White House

COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CAPITAL PROJECTS FROM WMA, DPNR & PUBLIC WORKS

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive testimony and current status reports from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA), the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the Department of Public Works.

Roger E. Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, assured the body that under his direction, “The Authority will implement several strategies to overcome our current fiscal constraints.” Merritt Jr., accompanied by Chief Operating Officer Steve Aubin and Chief Engineer Jim Grum, indicated that a significant percentage of their General Fund appropriation is used to maintain critical operational costs for public health, safety and compliance regulations.

The Waste Management Authority noted their appreciation for the $1.7 million appropriation by the 31st Legislature, which delayed the implementation of tipping fees and was used to pay outstanding fees to contractors, provide public hearings and informational handouts for the public. The Public Services Commission (PSC) approved the petition for tipping fees on solid waste collection and disposal services on April 20, 2016. The Authority expects to generate $6.9 million from this plan, that cannot begin until the end of Fiscal Year 2017, due to additional scale-house modifications, weighing scale, compactor repairs and technological systems needed.

The PSC also approved a petition submitted by the WMA to collect special waste fees on electronic waste, freon, lubricating oil and fluorescent light bulbs. The Authority anticipates they will be ready to collect special waste fees by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and expects to generate $1.2 million annually. The Wastewater User Fee (Sewer Fee), which is collected with property taxes, falls short of its expected collection of $3 million annually. To date, the WMA has not received any funds for Fiscal Year 2017, collected $576,000 total for FY 2015 and $856,000 total for FY 2016.

Last fiscal year, a petition was submitted to the PSC to for various miscellaneous wastewater operation fees, specifically overdue septage disposal fees. The fees are expected to cover costs of services in an effort to expand and improve services offered to all residents in our territory. In recent news, the District Court approved the motion to remove the remaining wastewater treatment plants from the 1984 Consent Decree, which brings the WMA closer to full termination of the decree.  “The Authority continues to search and apply for grants to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure, improve solid waste operations and eliminate public unmanned bin sites in the territory,” stated Executive Director Merritt, Jr.

On St. Croix, the Anguilla Landfill is in the process of stabilizing the final slopes of the site, utilizing approximately 160 tons of waste per day and awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a redesign that will develop 2 years worth of airspace available for new waste placement. Upon completion of capital improvements required by the Consent Decrees, the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas will be approved by the EPA for 3 years of airspace available for new waste placement.

The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning received testimony from Commissioner Dawn Henry of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on their ongoing initiatives. The Division of Environmental Protection (EP) recently implemented a new application process that requires all pest companies and applicators to obtain a permit before purchasing Restricted Use Pesticides and specifying where they will be applied in the territory.

The EP officially manages the territory’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and receives $4.8 million annually from the U.S. EPA to assist in improving the territory’s municipal wastewater facilities and storm water systems. To date, the improvements made thus far have resulted in a reimbursement of $7 million to the Department and recoupment of $1.5 million in indirect costs.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Services for repairs in St. Croix to the Gallows Bay, Altona Lagoon, and Frederiksted docks. All repairs are estimated to be completed by the end of FY 2017. The Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) joined efforts with the Virgin Islands Port Authority to expedite the application process by making forms available online.

Commissioner Gustav James of the Department of Public Works provided updates on the status of the major capital projects in progress within the territory. Over 25 major roadway projects are in progress or slated to begin in both districts, notably Veterans Drive and the Moravian Highway on St. Thomas, Bordeaux Mountain and Fish Bay on St. John, along with Mahogany Road and Hamm’s Bluff on St. Croix. Commissioner James concluded his testimony by briefly outlining the 5 major non-road projects in progress, such as the St. Croix Fish Market and Fort Christian on St. Thomas.

While commending the testifiers and their employees for their hard work and commitment within their respective agencies, Members of the 32nd Legislature raised serious concerns with the lack of reasonable compensation for employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands.

###