Category: Press Releases


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St. Croix–The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Agriculture chaired by Senator Myron D. Jackson, met Friday, May 31, 2019, in the Cardiac Center Conference Room, St. Croix and considered several proposed resolutions.

The resolutions honored several outstanding musicians, a storyteller and culture bearer, and a contributor to a historic church in the Virgin Islands.

The first item on the day’s agenda was Bill No.33-0079, which is a resolution proposed by Senator Javan James.  The resolution seeks to honor and commend Alwyn “Big Al” Baptiste, Sr., posthumously for his outstanding contribution to the music industry in the Virgin Islands.

The committee heard from Deanroy Baptise who said that Big Al was the oldest of ten (10) siblings. He added that he knew his brother was destined for greatness in the musical industry. Born on the Island of Antigua, Dean said when he joined his brother in 1979, he realized that he was very respected by the people of St. Croix. He added that his brother was also well respected in the Caribbean community in New York.

Other testifiers joined in the honoring of Big Al were: Bernard Liburd, of St. Thomas who told of the collaboration efforts between him and Big Al which yielded the popular song, “Barna Jam” and Fitzroy Ogarro who became a Carnival Calyso King.

The next item on the agenda was Bill No. 33-0039 which is a resolution proposed by Senator James, commending Alwyn “Daddy Jones” Baptiste, Jr., for his outstanding contributions to the music industry in the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean.

Testifiers participating in the honoring of Baptiste Jr., were Alwyn Baptiste, III, Henry Willock, Jr. and Alvin Burke, Jr.  

Baptiste III said his father was always around his grandfather whenever he was playing music, and he soon realized that his father would become like his grandfather—a master musician.    Willock, Jr., said, “music is life and the universal language.” He pointed out that both him and Baptiste, Jr., met in elementary school at the age of 9-years old. Burke in his testimony said the modern calypso musical styles that are heard today, were revolutionized a long time ago by Daddy Jones.

Chairman, Sen. Jackson said many of our arts and culture bearers have made sacrifice for what they do. He congratulated the testifiers for their insights on behalf of the honorees.  He further stated that we need to establish an institution that foster the development and celebration of our arts and culture for future generations.

Bill No.33-0038 and Bill No.33-0039 were favorable approved and sent on to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 33-0057 a resolution posthumously honoring and commending Janice Pemberton Tutein for her tireless years of educating our youth and work as a storyteller and cultural bearer.

Senator Jackson characterized Tutein as a traditional crucian and Virgin Islands cultural bearer, who was also known as “Auntie Janice.”  The Senator further indicated that Tutein was also an educator and a noted master storyteller.  

Testifiers who recalled the life and times of this noted cultural bearer were Zoraida Jacobs, friend and fellow educator; Roy Pemberton (brother); Larry Larsen, friend and fellow educator; and Violet Harrigan Connor, ret-educator.

Many of the testifiers spoke of “Auntie Janice” as a dedicated teacher who would go beyond the ordinary to make sure her students achieve their expectations. She was, they echoed, incorporated the cultural realities of the Virgin Islands within her teaching practices.

This Bill was amended by Senator Jackson, whereas the store on the Agricultural Fair Ground, Estate Lower Love, St. Croix be named the “Auntie Janice Li’l Shop and the Homestead House, the “Auntie Janice” Pemberton Tutein Homestead House.”

The Bill was voted out of the committee and sent to the Rule and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

The last item on the day’s agenda was Bill No.33-0079, which is a resolution sponsored by Senator Jackson.  The resolution seeks to honor and commend Thelma Ruby Schade, Youngblood for her outstanding service and contributions to the Lutheran Church of the Virgin Islands.

Testifiers who spoke on behalf of Pastor Youngblood were: Pastor Gerald A. Williams, Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church and Pastor Robert Wakefield, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

According to the testifiers Pastor Youngblood was a pioneer who made outstanding contributions to the church and the community throughout her ministry.  She became the first black American-born fully trained Lutheran Deaconess.

The Bill was amended by Senator Jackson and thereafter was favorably approved by the committee and sent on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Senators at Friday’s hearing were: Chairman, Senator Myron D. Jackson, Javan James, Sr., Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Stedmann Hodge, Donna Frett-Gregory, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

Senate President Francis Acknowledges Receipt of FY 2020 Executive Budget

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No. 33-19-004

May 30, 2019

For More Information Contact: Shawna K. Richards, Chief of Staff

Ph: (340) 712-2324

Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr. has acknowledged receipt of the Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Budget, which was submitted to the Virgin Islands Legislature earlier today, in compliance with the statutory filing deadline of May 30th.

“I appreciate that Governor Bryan and his financial team met the deadline to submit the Executive Budget to the Senate,” Francis said. “Timely receipt of the budget allows the Legislature to proceed with its work of vetting this document in a comprehensive manner and making fiscally responsible decisions.

I look forward to hearing directly from government agencies during the upcoming budget cycle to best determine how their needs can be supportedin ways that serve the interests of the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Committee on Gov’t Operations, Consumer and Veterans Affairs Forwards Approved Bills to Rules and the Judiciary

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The Committee on Government Operations, Consumer & Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, met in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on Monday, to take testimony and consider bills relating to taxi medallions and trade name registration.
In its first block, the Committee considered two bills which spoke specifically about taxi medallions for Veterans. Bill No. 33-0006, sponsored by Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff, which seeks to “…amend title 20 VIC, part II, chapter 37, subchapter II, section 407 relating to taxi medallions, to prohibit veterans who obtain taxi medallions at auction from selling the medallion to a person who is not a veteran”; and Bill No. 33-0009, sponsored by Sen. Marvin A. Blyden, which seeks to “…amend title 20 VIC, part II, chapter 37, subchapter II, section 407 relating to the sale of taxi medal-lions by adding a new subsection (d) providing a definition of Virgin Islands Veteran for the purpos-es of the section”.
In his testimony, Patrick D. Farrell, Director of the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs, expressed his support for both measures. He said it would be unfair for non-veterans to benefit from a law that was initially created for veterans, and noted that “there are many Veterans awaiting the opportunity to own a taxi medallion via this process.” With his support of Bill No. 33-0009, Farrell suggested that the definition of Virgin Islands Veteran be considered for all sections of the V.I. Code pertain-ing to Veterans, similar to other state laws specific to veterans of their state.
Also testifying on both measures, from the V.I. Taxicab Commission, was Executive Director Levron Sarauw, Sr., who indicated that he is in support of both measures, noting that the Commis-sion currently has a policy that mirrors Bill No. 33-0006.
Both bills were approved and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The Committee also considered Bill No. 33-0030, sponsored by Sen. Thomas, which would, “…amend title 11, chapter 21, section 1213 of the Virgin Islands Code, by requiring the annual renewal of trade name registration”. Sen. Thomas noted that it has been approximately 26 years since the fee schedule has been upgraded, and this measure seeks to bring the fees up-to-date, by suggesting an annual renewal fee of $50. While Denise Johannes, Director of the Division of Corporations and Trademarks for the Lt. Governor’s Office testified that the office in is favor of the change in fee, she said they would prefer that the biannual schedule remains, and that they be given the leeway to set “a reasonable fee by regulation”. Senators did not agree with leaving that decision solely to the division without legislative approval, and voted to forward the measure to the Rules and Judiciary Committee, pending and amendment to allow the fee to remain biannual, with a change to $100.
Committee members present at Monday’s meeting along with Committee Chair Sen. Thomas, were Senators DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Javan E. James, Sr., Steven D. Payne, Sr., and Janelle K. Sarauw. Sen. Alicia V. Barnes was excused. Non-committee member Sen. Blyden was also present.
Capitol Building, P.O. Box 1690
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 00804

Transportation/Infrastructure Chair: Safe and reliable transportation is a must

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ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – On Monday, April 15, the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications met to hear testimony from the Department of Public Works on the status of infrastructure and public transportation services in the territory.

Committee Chair, Senator Marvin A. Blyden, stressed the role the roads and public transportation system plays in our lives in order to highlight the importance of keeping them maintained.

“The study of human civilization shows us that roads are the physical links that bind communities together. From everyday transportation, to commerce, to healthcare and other emergency services, the functioning of a modern society depends on a solid road system and a solid public transportation system”

In his testimony, Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty Jr. detailed multiple active infrastructure projects totaling $176 million. These projects include the Veteran’s Drive project, the Melvin D. Evans Highway project, Carlton Road repavement and drainage, rehabilitation of Sion Valley Hill, paving of Moravian Highway, replacement of Scott Free Bridge, emergency repairs of Fish Bay Road in St. John, the Mainstreet Enhancement Project, and more. Overall, the Department of Public Works expects to receive approximately $460 million in funding through a combination of local non-disaster funding and federal funding from FEMA, the Department of Interior, GARVEE bonds, the Federal Highway Administration and HUD CDBG-DR grants.

To increase the presence and reliability of the VITRAN bus system,the Commissioner Nominee and Transportation Planner Dennis Chance explained how 10 medium buses had been ordered and that there were plans to hire more drivers.

Noting the considerable interest in the topic, Commissioner Nominee Petty explained his opinion on the way the GVI accepts private roads in order to repair them. He noted there are provisions that allow the Government to make repairs without having them deeded, but the larger issue was a matter of funding. Unless funding sources are identified, he recommends against accepting private roads. Should a source be found, the Department of Public Works can evaluate the request appropriately.

Senators in attendance also pressed for a resolution of the traffic light issue on St. Thomas and learned that the delay is the result of supply issues with the manufacturers. All necessary materials are expected to arrive in May.

Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Novelle E. Francis, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alicia V. Barnes, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Javan E. James were present at Monday’s hearing. Non-committee members Donna Frett-Gregory and Oakland Benta were also in attendance.

More than 11,000 attend Seatrade

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MIAMI, FLORIDA – Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens said Monday that given the catastrophic hurricanes of 2017 and the rapid changes occurring within the cruise industry that it was critical for Virgin Islands officials to continue to work closely with cruise lines, travel agents, vendors and other tourism partners.

Senator Gittens, who is among the Virgin Islands delegation attending the 2019 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference, said the annual event remains the industry’s most important networking opportunity with the ultimate goal of luring more ships and attractions to the Territory, particularly St. Croix.

“As we continue to rebound from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our tourism environment and specifically the cruise industry are regaining their stability, but we still have some catching up to do,” he said. “This conference is just one of the ways that we can continue to remain abreast of the changes taking place through innovative workshops and opportunities to network with the top executives in the industry. We must be proactive in driving our tourism product forward.”

There are more than three dozen workshops that focus on all aspects of the cruise industry, with many oriented toward the role that government must play in regulating and supporting tourism.

“This conference is expected to draw more than 11,000 registered attendees from around the world,” the Senate President said. “We want to ensure that the Territory remains at the table and is effectively represented. Having the opportunity to meet one on one with the executives gives us a leg up on our competition.”

The Executive Director of the 33rd Legislature and former Tourism Commissioner, Pamela C. Richards, said at the Seatrade Conference senators have a unique opportunity to meet with industry partners and learn how the Territory can be improved as a destination.

“With the information that they gather, and the relationships built with this face-to-face interaction, they can use this information to develop policies and adjust existing legislation or implement new legislation that can leverage our destination more prominently to these audiences,” Ms. Richards said.

Gittens said he is looking forward to the conference’s keynote address on the State of the Industry Panel which will be moderated by Lucy Hockings from BBC News and include Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line, Arnold Donald of Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain from Royal Caribbean Cruises and Pierfrancesco Vago from MSC Cruises.

“We’ve seen the fruits of our attendance at Seatrade in the past and this is another opportunity to connect with the key industry players. There is a great global market out there waiting to come to our Territory and enjoy our rich heritage and natural beauty,” Senator Gittens said.

The conference’s tradeshow and expo floor will feature 800 exhibitors from 83 countries.

“I’m looking forward to having candid discussions with some of the vendors, operators and investors to bring new attractions and investment dollars to the Territory,” Senator Gittens said.

The Legislature’s delegation includes: Senate President Gittens, Senator Kurt Vialet, Senator Oakland Benta, Senator Stephen Payne, Senator Athniel “Bobby” Thomas and Senator Myron Jackson.

Committee on Rules and Judiciary Approves Five Nominees

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From the office of Senator Alicia V. Barnes

St. Thomas, V.I. – Five cabinet nominees selected by Governor Albert Bryan were confirmed before the 33rd Legislature’s Committee on Rules & Judiciary during confirmation hearings chaired by Senator Alicia V. Barnes on Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29 at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall in St. Thomas.
The approved nominees are Justa Encarnacion, Department of Health, Positive T.A. Nelson Department of Agriculture, Nelson Petty, Jr., Department of Public Works, Jean-Pierre L. Oriol, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Department of Education.

Department of Health Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and served as the first Health Supervisor at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix Campus. Encarnacion’s short-term goals include the development of a U.S. Virgin Islands Health Plan by conducting a health needs assessment with the input of all stakeholders to improve the overall performance of public health. Long-term goals include the opening of a 40-bed residential behavioral health facility on St. Croix, to include the return of patients receiving care off-island.
Senator Barnes asked about emergency planning relative to patient evacuees and managing databases in the wake of another natural disaster. During a line of questioning, Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens asked the nominee if the department had looked into placing EMT’s at fire stations to reduce ambulatory response times. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion stated that meetings and conversations have started. Senator Janelle K. Sarauw asked about the status of the dental clinic in the territory and if community health clinics were operational. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion said that while the dental clinic was taken out of the budget, agencies have expressed interest in continued collaboration with the Frederiksted and East End Health Centers.

Commissioner Nominee Nelson of the Department of Agriculture earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and has eight years of crop farming, landscaping, and horticulture experience. His goals include revisiting and updating the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agricultural Development and Advancement, improving infrastructure, pursuing additional funding sources, and establishing a deeper partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands.
Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. asked about fund capitalization, assistance with facility rehabilitation, and how much funding local farm industries received. Nelson said two million dollars have been utilized thus far.
Commissioner Nominee Oriol earned a degree in Biology and began his work at DPNR as an inspector at the Division of Coastal Zone Management. His short-term goals include resolving staffing issues, addressing repairs at DPNR’s St. John office through a bid process, and providing permitees with standardized permit placards. Long-term goals include the development of comprehensive Island-Specific land use plans, and the implementation of an electronic permitting system.
Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff asked about his plans for DPNR for the next six months. Oriol listed staffing, making inspections, and having vehicles for inspectors as top priorities. Senator Barnes asked about the recent issues with CZM permits for the racetrack, how it was resolved, and if there’s a strategy in place to ensure that it won’t happen again. Oriol said the matter was resolved and permits were signed, and that legal opinions are being taken into consideration.
Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty, Jr. earned a degree in Civil Engineering and started his career as a registered professional engineer with the Department of Public Works. Petty also founded his own engineering and surveying company. One of Petty’s goals is to “manage the community’s expectations with regards to expending federal funds to address repairs to our infrastructure,” and to attract more community and business involvement.
Committee members asked about overall safety issues, the VITRAN system, traffic and parking concerns, leadership roles on each island and specifics on projects such as the La Reine Fish Market.
Commissioner Nominee Racquel Berry-Benjamin earned a bachelor’s degree, two Masters’ Degrees, and is a Doctoral Candidate. She appeared before the committee a second time and passed, along with the other members nominees during this two-day period, to the full body with favorable recommendations.

Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation Receives Update on Various Items

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From the Office of Senator Javan E. James, Sr.

St. Croix, USVI–Members of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr. met on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in the Capitol Building on St. Thomas to receive an update status from several Government and non-government agencies.

The committee first heard from, Labor Commissioner nominee, Gary Molloy along with his team, who gave an overview of the Labor Youth Program, by focusing specifically on plans for the Youth and Summer Programs. The committee learned that there are approximately 598 summer jobs for the youth throughout the Territory.

Having a background in education, Commissioner Nominee Molloy hopes to collaborate with Department of Education by visiting schools and informing students of the programs that are offered. Commissioner Nominee Molloy further indicated that statically service positions like Administration, Accounting, and IT positions are the jobs that are much needed to be filled along with hospitality and carpentry areas.

The Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation Acting Commissioner Calvert White, focused on the recovery efforts due to the destruction sustained during the 2017 storms. White said that there is a need for reconstruction which may probably exceed $20,000,000.00. The Acting Commissioner also informed the committee that damages were extended to all islands and it is the department’s intent to do a thorough upgrade territory wide.

VIGL Operations Manager, Jason Williams discussed the Agreement between the VIGL and the Government of the Virgin Islands regarding their obligation to commit $27 million for the design and reconstruction of both race tracks; Williams further indicated in his testimony that he received a permit in December 2018 for the St. Thomas racetrack and a few others earlier this month.

St. Croix Horsemen Association told committee members about their challenges that they are faced with regarding their horses having no running surface that is suitable for the horses to exercise.

St. Thomas/St. John Horsemen Association updated the committee on the improvements to the running surface and it is their hope that they would have approval for the temporary racing schedule for 2019.

The Commission for Horse Racing were also invited but was unable to attend; however, another hearing will be set in April 2019 during which the committee will seek further clarity on certain issues surrounding the sport of horse racing.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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