Category: Press Releases

V.I. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND THE WEST INDIAN COMPANY LIMITED SHARES FY 2019 PROJECTED BUDGET

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA), and the West Indian Company Limited on the FY 2019 budget appropriations.

VIDOA General Fund request is $4,013,625. The budget is a 12% reduction in comparison to the FY 2017 appropriation of $4,587,000. VIDOA is mandated to receive $500,000 due to Act No. 6836, the Agriculture Sustainable Act. The combination of the General Fund and the required monies totals the FY 2019 budget request for the General Fund to $4,513,625. The budget breakdown is as follows: Personnel services and fringe benefits represent 85.5% and operating expenses is 14.4%. Additionally, VIDOA will also receive $1,000,000 from the Tourism Agriculture Revolving Fund. The Department anticipates Federal Funds totaling $339,262.

“Considering that there is a 12% reduction in the FY 2019 budget, how will it affect VIDOA?” asked Sen. Tregenza Roach. Carlos Robles, Commissioner of VIDOA, stated that Federal Funds allows the allocation to groups of farmers.  Sen. Vialet also inquired, “Did VIDOA receive contributions from the Casino Fund?” Delreese Brown, Director of Administration and Management at VIDOA stated that VIDOA received funds in the third quarter of FY 2018.

Post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria, VIDOA is collaborating with FEMA, VITEMA and Witt O’Brien to develop Project Worksheets to repair or replace the infrastructure, buildings, and equipment damaged because of the storms. Currently, the Department has eleven vacancies that are critical for operation. Despite challenges, VIDOA managed to meet with VINGN and the Department of Human Services to begin discussion on making wireless internet access for farmers markets throughout the Territory.

Sen. Roach inquired, “When can local farmers access SNAP Farmers Market Technology Program?” In response, Commissioner Roble said, “Internet access will allow the Dept. of Human Services and VIDOA to engage with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service for the installation of EBT card reading devices at each of the farmer’s markets.” VINGN has assessed the Bordeaux Farmer’s Market and is developing an implementation plan.

Separately, Clifford Graham, President, and Chief Executive Officer stated that for FY 2019 the Miscellaneous Income projected at $141,368. “However, no itemization was submitted to verify the dollar amount.” FY 2019 budget is $4,375,074. The budget is an increase in comparison to the $3,281,854 appropriated for FY 2017. Personnel, fringe and Capital Outlays are $1,575,000 for FY 2019. WICO’S Expenditures and projections are $13,978,640 for FY 2019. Some of their goals are to complete recovery work on the property, complete the FY 2018 Audit, and to finalize the acquisition of the Havensight Mall from GERS.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Janelle Sarauw, Novelle Francis, Dwayne DeGraff, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith, and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly. Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                            

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VIRGIN ISLANDS CARNIVAL AND OTHER ENTITIES SHARES FY 2019 PROJECTED BUDGET

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony from officials from the Virgin Islands Carnival, Festival & Cultural Organization of St. John, The Crucian Christmas Festival, The Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority on the FY 2019 budget appropriations.

The recommended FY 2019 budget for the Virgin Islands Carnival is $545,000 the Festival & Cultural Organization of St. John FY 2019 budget is $320,000, and the Crucian Christmas Festival FY 2019 budget is $520,000.

“If there is nothing to hide, why hasn’t the V.I. Carnival Committee provided detail information on all the monies received?” inquired Sen. Nereida O’Reilly. Halvor Hart III, Executive Director of the V.I. Carnival stated that the information on the document, “Transaction Detail by Account” has the breakdown for the $545,000.  “Although the $545,000 is detailed, there is missing information for the additional $292,371 given to the committee through various sponsorships,” said Sen. Vialet. Hart stated that he would compile the information and submit it to the Senate.

“This is disrespectful to the first branch of government that documents were subpoena and still there is a lack of transparency for the use of government funds,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw.

Sen. Tregenza Roach inquired if it is possible that carnival and festivals can be self-sustaining to the point where government funds are not needed? “This will boil down to charging people who attend the concerts in the village,” said Davidson Charlemagne, President of the Crucian Festival. Leona Smith, Chairperson of the Festival and Cultural Organization of St. John added that economic sustainability is contingent upon the state of the economy.

The Virgin Islands Carnival, there were 369 complimentary tickets for the Prince and Princess Show, 369 complimentary tickets from the Queen Show and 301 complimentary tickets disseminated by the Calypso Competition. “Why were 33% and 25% of complimentary tickets distributed, when these are revenue generating events?” asked Sen. Vialet. Hart stated that complimentary tickets distributed for intermission performances such as majorettes, bands, and singers.  “This is an enormous amount of free tickets compared to low sales,” said Sen. Vialet.

Smith stated that the Festival and Cultural Organization of St. John disbursed 20 complimentary tickets. Charlemagne noted that there were six complimentary tickets distributed by the Crucian Christmas Festival.

Separately, the Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority shared the FY 2019 budget. Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner of the Department of Tourism, shared that the budget request for FY 2019 is $20,668,404. Out of that, the General Fund is $2,283,404, and the Tourism Revolving Fund is $18,385,000. Additionally, carnival activities are $1,385,000, Sports Tourism development is $1,000,000 and marketing/promotions is $16,000,000. The breakdown for the General Fund budget request is as follows: $1,440,889 for personnel, $585,540 for fringe benefits, $22,000 for supplies, $159,123 for other services and charges, and $75,852 for public utilities.

Commissioner Doty stated that some of the goals and objectives for FY 2019 include, working with operators and attractions to implement recommendations on St. Croix, supporting the Bureau of Economic Developing “Made in the Virgin Islands” program and create mechanisms to cooperatively market and to establish innovative ways to market cultural activities and events to develop channels to increase visitor participation.

Robert Graham, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority stated that the FY 2019 budget is $9,553,554.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Neville James, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith, Myron Jackson, and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly.                                                  Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                                           ###

 

LEGISLATIVE HOME NOW ON THE HORIZON FOR THE BIG ISLAND

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ST. CROIX– Senate President Myron D. Jackson and Vice-President Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly announced early today that a new site for the Legislature on St. Croix has been procured.

“We are excited to have a place to call home, our central and senatorial staff have worked in two separate locations far longer than we anticipated,” said Vice-President O’Reilly.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria’s passage, an active search began for a temporary legislative home to meet the needs of the general public.

The Legislature of the Virgin Islands currently operates out of two offices in Christiansted; 1108 King Street and #36-C Strand Street. “Immediately following the hurricanes, we began to explore our options for relocation. We attempted to reach out to the Office of the Governor for assistance. Upon being turned down, our efforts led us to the two properties we have been operating out of since January.”

“When I took office at the beginning of this term, I made a statement regarding the welfare of the employees of this Institution. It did not sit well with the local media and members of our community. I made a commitment to improving the standard of health, and quality of life for our employees on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.”

“I am reminded of the many locations of the Legislature we leased on Contentment Road and most recently at the Lagoon Street Complex. “It pained us greatly to have to move out of Frederiksted after Hurricane Maria,” he added.

Senate President Jackson noted the ongoing discussions pertaining to the impact of mold, and severe flooding conditions, and sewage issues in Frederiksted. The Members of the 32nd Legislature agreed that it was time to deal with it rather than deferring it to the next Body.

“We are looking forward to new beginnings at our new location, where people can come to the institution and be proud of not just the Senate, but what the building signifies for the community of St. Croix,” O’Reilly concluded.

This has been a long, frustrating road, said Jackson. “We are pleased to announce today that we have secured a safe, habitable working environment for our Staff and look forward to our continued productivity as the First Branch of Government,” concluded Senate President Jackson.

 

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BILL TO EXPAND OPTOMETRISTS TO TREAT GLAUCOMA IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MOVES FORWARD

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and approved several measures including Bill No. 32-0244- An Act amending title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1 subchapter VII, section 161 relating to the practice of optometry.

The measure seeks to expand optometrists to treat glaucoma in the Virgin Islands as compared to their counterparts on the U.S. mainland.

Glaucoma is a disease of the eye associated with an elevated ocular pressure that can damage the optic nerve which can lead to loss of vision and irreversible blindness. This disease is highly prevalent among the African American population.

“Previously, the bill excluded optometrist from treating glaucoma. It is important to note that 49 states have expanded the scope of Optometrist except for Massachusetts,” said Sponsor of the Bill Sen. O’Reilly.  “The intent of this legislation does not allow optometrists to do surgery, laser treatment or incisions.”

Lisa Adams, an Optometrist/Member of the Board of Optometrically Examiners, stated that patients would benefit from expanding the availability of providers to treat a high incidence of glaucoma. “By granting this prescriptive authority of therapeutics in the Virgin Islands, it would bring the practice of optometry on par with the nation.”

However, a written testimony submitted by Michelle Davis, Commissioner, for the Virgin Islands Department of Health opposes the legislation and urges lawmakers to “table” the amendment. “The key concern is that any plans to further expand the scope of practice for CTOs must include a fully appointed and active Optometry Board prepared to regulate the scope of any expansion.”

In addition to Bill. No. 32-0244, senators also voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0235-an Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 23, section 415, subsection (b), paragraph (2) subparagraph (B) relating to the composition of the Board of Dental Examiners to authorize of a dental therapist to the board. Sen. O’Reilly is the sponsor of this measure.

“The fact remains that there are 94 licensed dentists and over 100,000 residents who need dental services. The public should have access to their dentists and not be discouraged by long waiting lists,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. “Adding dental therapist is a win-win situation that will benefit the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young inquired about the lack of access to dentists. Olutayo Delano, BDS, MS, Chair of the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners stated that there are more than 94 dentists because there are ten offices housing more dentists. The problem is not the lack of dental care access but that patients are not coming in because they pick a provider based on the referral process.

Commissioner Davis stated that she does not support this measure. “It is premature to adopt dental therapy legislation considering that the field is still in development. The Territory has successfully improved access to quality dental care in a variety of ways through licensure and adopting sound proven standards.”

“I don’t understand the pushback,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes. “Oral hygiene is critical. Poor oral hygiene can lead to a medical diagnosis that is detrimental to the health of a patient. Dental therapists can help streamline the process.”

Separately, the following measures were approved:

  • Bill No. 32-0236-An Act amending Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III relating to the practice of dental therapy in the Territory
  • BR No. 32-0247-an Act to provide funding for the establishment of an inpatient mental health facility with supporting resources in the Virgin Islands.
  • Bill No. 32-0245-An Act amending Title 19, Virgin Islands Code part II, chapter 15, section 222 to exempt Urgent Care Facilities from the requirement of getting a certificate of need and mandating that these entities must accept MAP, Medicare, and uninsured patients
  • Bill No. 32-0173-a Resolution honoring and commending the Family Resource Center for its services to victims and families in the U.S. Virgin Islands throughout the years

All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators present are Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes, Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/

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THE OFFICE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING SHARES FY 2019 BUDGET

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony from officials from the Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB) and other agencies for the FY 2019 budget appropriations.

Governor Kenneth E. Mapp’s recommended budget for OCB totals $920,913. The proposed expenditures and budget breakdown for FY 2019 is as follows: personnel services are $489,549 or 53.16%, fringe benefits are $189,364 20.6%, equipment and supplies are $30,000 or 3.26%, utilities are $9,000 or .98%, other services are $155,000 or 16.83%, and capital outlay is $48,000 or 5.21%.

The allocated funds requested for capital outlay are for labor-management relations, to upgrade computers and software programs, and to purchase a vehicle. Sen. Dwayne DeGraff inquired about the primary use for the capital outlay. Natalie Tang, Esq., Chief Negotiator Chief Negotiator for the Government of the Virgin Islands, Office of Collective Bargaining said, “Training for employees tasked with compliance with existing collective bargaining agreements is very critical. Additionally, the training that OCB provides to various government agencies is essential to the productivity of each Department.”

Sen. Vialet inquired about the two vacant positions at OCB and the increase of personnel services. Chief Negotiator Tang said, “The two job openings are for an Administrative Assistant for the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District. The necessity of the two positions has increased the budget for personnel services.”

“Considering that OCB’s budget is under a million dollars, is that sufficient to carry out all mandates?” asked Novelle Francis. Chief Negotiator Tang stated that the requested budget is an ample amount to satisfy the requirements of the Department. “To successfully meet our goals and initiatives proposed by this Administration, we request that the approved budget is a lump sum of $920,913,” she said. The goals of OCB are to reduce the backlog of labor cases, improve the operations of labor-management relations, and to bring expired contracts to a current status.

Sen. Tregenza Roach shared his remarks as it pertains to the governor granting raises to some employees at OCB. “It is no doubt that government employees deserve a raise. My concern is sustaining any increases that this body is implementing and that there are parity and homogeneity in the labor and working conditions in the bargaining unit.”

Separately, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) and the Virgin Islands Lottery also shared the FY 2019 budget.

Lawrence Kupfer, the Executive Director of WAPA, shared the capital and operating budgets for the Electric and Water Systems. For FY 2019, the income and expense report for the Electric System totals $541,488. As of May 2018, the operating revenues from sales of 343,312-megawatt hours of electricity, the electric system earned over $156.9 million. However, the operating expenses and net deductions totaled $183.3 million with a net operating loss of $26.4 million. Currently, LEAC revenues total $82.3 million. Virgin Islands Government Accounts Receivables balance is $33.7 million ending May 2018. The primary accounts that have an outstanding balance are Juan F. Luis Hospital ($10,695,507), Roy Lester Schneider Hospital ($9,483,378), Finance ($3.1 million) and V.I. Waste Management ($1,662,024).

For FY 2019 The Water System Income and Expense totals 1,305,143 gallons of water. Thus far, there is a net loss of $279,000. However, based on the operating revenues of $32.1 million from sales of 1,305,143 gallons of water the projected income is $4.2 million for FY 2019. The deductions and incurred operating expenses total $27.6 million. The V.I. Government Accounts Receivables totals $7.5million. The primary accounts that owe are Roy Lester Schneider Regional Hospital ($1,889,614), Juan F. Luis Hospital ($2,189,017), V.I. Housing Authority ($1,444,153) and V.I. Waste Management ($34,987).

Juan Figueroa, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Lottery (VIL) stated that VIL does not receive monies from the General Fund. The update is as follows: primary revenues components are Video Lottery Gaming, Scratch Games, Powerball, Mega Millions, Super Lotto, and Traditional Games. FY 2019 revenue projections are $20,114,477.  Total operating expenses is $14,490,725 which results from mandatory transfers of $5,073,057.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith, Novelle Francis, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Janelle Sarauw, Neville James, and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly.                                                Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                                           ###

 

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR SHARES FY 2019 PROJECTED BUDGET

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony from officials from the Department of Labor (DOL) and other agencies for the FY 2019 budget appropriations.

The governor’s recommended budget for DOL is $11,119,439. The budget breakdown is as follows: $10,223,152 from the General Fund and $896,287 from the Government Insurance Fund. $801,333 is the non-appropriated local funding and $6,268,072 is the non-appropriated Federal Fund totaling $18,188,844.

“Securing Federal Grants has been an issue for DOL for quite some time,” said Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly. “Are there Federal Grants that are at risk?” she asked. In response, Averil George, Commissioner Designee at DOL stated that The Workforce Grant, a grant for adults and youths and Foreign Labor Grant totaling $34,000 are at-risk. Sen. O’Reilly asked, “Is DOL able to rescue those grants?” George stated that the grants expired in March 2018 and June 2018.

Thus far, for FY 2018 the total received for Worker’s Compensation Administration totals $4,500,000. The funds expended is broken down into two categories: $1,033,861 for Injured Workers and $2,420,716 for Providers. “Why is DOL struggling with workers compensation?” inquired Sen. Janelle Sarauw. George stated that DOL is severely understaffed and there are eight vacancies for those positions. DOL will start a campaign to attract new hires.

“What is the unemployment rate?” asked Sen. Positive Nelson. Gary Halyard, Director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said, “Currently, unemployment Territory-wide is down to 9.5%. Post-hurricanes it was 18%. Before the storms, it was approximately 11%. Sen. Vialet inquired, “What is the number of people looking for jobs?” Halyard stated that the number fluctuates based on the positions open. For example, if there are a lot of jobs, then more people apply. However, if contractual jobs are available, then fewer people fill out applications.

Separately, The Virgin Islands Energy Office (VIEO), the Office of Veterans Affairs and the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital shared their FY 2019 budget appropriations.

Elmo Roebuck, Jr., Director of the VIEO stated that the recommended budget totals $1,125,408. Considering that the FY 2019 budget mirrors FY 2017, there is a reduction of $135,058 in comparison to FY 2018.  The budget breakdown is as follows: $554,999 for personnel services, $251,568 for fringe benefits, $269,728 for other services, and $21,000 for supplies.

Patrick Farrell, Director of the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs stated that the recommended budget for FY 2019 is $783,625. Approximately, $335,544 is for personnel salaries and fringe benefits, $31,081 is for operating expenses, $300,000 for medical travel and death benefits and $117,000 for projected non-appropriated funds from the V.I. Lottery and Taxi-Cab Commission.

Dr. Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer of Schneider Regional Medical Center stated that the operational budget for FY 2019 is $28.3 million. In comparison to the FY 2018 budget of $34 million, this is a reduction of $5.6 million. “However, the projected net patient revenue of $33.9 million for FY 2018 has increased because of the federal match for Medicaid to 100%. For FY 2019, SRMC is estimated net patient revenue of $45.1 million which includes an estimated additional $4.8 million of revenue from the Medicaid Match,” said Dr. Wheatley.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith, Novelle Francis, and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly.                                                  Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                                           ###

 

COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN LIEU OF SY 2018-2019

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Education, Youth, and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony from officials of the V.I. Department of Education (VIDE), on the status of public schools in preparation for School Year 2018-2019.

“We know that the beginning of the school year is rapidly approaching. Therefore, we want enlightenment on the conditions of the schools and to find solutions if necessary,” said Sen. Forde.

Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of VIDE shared the update. “We established a very aggressive schedule in our efforts to meet SY 2018-2019 opening deadline. To date, FEMA project worksheets totaling $117,941,204 for the Temporary Facilities Project is obligated.”

Thus far, negotiations for temporary and permanent repairs to the schools are ongoing. Commissioner McCollum stated that there are nine schools in the St. Thomas-St. John District that will have temporary repairs in preparation for full-session for the SY 2018-2019. On St. Croix District, temporary maintenance began in seven schools. Additionally, VIDE received $35,000,00 from insurance proceeds allocated by Governor Mapp through the Department of Property and Procurement to fund temporary repairs and temporary facility projects in conjunction with project worksheets approved by FEMA.

Furthermore, Public Schools were combined for a smooth transition from split-session to a full-session. On the St. Thomas-St. John District: a percentage of Glady’s Abraham students and Lockhart Elementary, a portion of Glady’s Abraham students and Ulla F. Muller Elementary School, a percentage of E. Benjamin Oliver students and Joseph Gomez Elementary School students and a percentage of E. Benjamin Oliver students with Yvonne Milliner-Bowsky Elementary School. On the St. Croix District Elena Christian and John Woodson Junior High Schools are combined. Although consolidation was necessary for those schools, there will be thirteen public schools receiving modular and sprung units in preparation for the full session for SY 2018-2019.

However, education leaders Ruby Simmonds Esannason, Carmen Howell, and Glenn Davis expressed opposition to the establishment of 56 modular classrooms on the athletic field and the tennis court at Charlotte Amalie High School stating that athletic programs are in jeopardy.

“This calculated scheme undermines the future of the young athletes,” said Davis. Howell stated that it threatens the critical standard for continued accreditation for the Health and Safety of students because one of the purposes of the field is to function as a viable evacuation site that allows ongoing drills in anticipation of emergencies. “The students will be placed in danger every time a heavy rain causes flooding on the fields,” added Esannason.

Sen. Forde stated that these are legitimate concerns. “However, authorities expressed that it is simply too late. If modular units are relocated, then in the commencement of the upcoming school year classrooms will not be ready on time, and split sessions will continue. The goal is to return students to full-session while repairing permanent school structures.”

Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “These concerns are from people with vast experience in the Education. I hope that the issues raised will not be an even bigger problem later.”

Separately, senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 32-0014-An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 9, section 86 relating to school attendance, absenteeism, and parental responsibility; and Bill No. 32-0203-An Act amending Title 17, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 3 relating to the permanent closure of public schools.

Senators present are Jean Forde, Kurt Vialet, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, Tregenza Roach, Neville James, and Janelle Sarauw. PHOTOS: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/                            ###

LAWMAKERS VET PETITIONERS ON REZONING REQUESTS

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St. Thomas – The Committee of the Whole led by Senate President Myron Jackson, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on zoning hearings as it pertains to the JRS Holding, LLC and the V.I. Christian Ministries. Policymakers did not vote on the zoning requests at the meeting today.

Sen. Myron Jackson said, “One of the issues that plague the Territory is the lack of infrastructure and development. There aren’t street lights in place, pedestrian sidewalks to access the medical facilities, public transportation or proper sewage.” He asked, “How can we correct the infrastructure needs of the land use plan?” Matthew Laplace, the Territorial Planner for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), stated at this time, development is limited. Government agencies must collaborate to build the infrastructure.

The petition seeks to amend the Official Zoning Map No. STZ-7 from R-2 (Residential-Low Density One and Two Family) to B-1 (Business-Central- Business District) for Parcel No. 48 Estate Thomas, No. 6A New Quarter, St. Thomas. The applicant’s proposed use is to create a mixed-use development consisting of medical offices, retail, a wellness center, and residential units for primarily short-term patients seeking medical treatment.

The Ensemble Complex is a three-story commercial complex housing medical practices, a wellness center, physical rehabilitation facilities, pharmacies, office spaces, and retail. The application seeks to change the current zoning category from residential to a central business district. With a recommendation from Dawn Henry, Commissioner of DPNR, to have the entrance and road access expanded to accommodate commercial use.

In a written testimony submitted to the Senate, Petitioner Jerry Smith, MD stated that this facility seeks to provide a high-traffic commercial trade center that offers a cohesive environment where medical, professional, and retail entities can thrive, grow and more conveniently serve the consumers of a variety of services.

Although lawmakers expressed support for the rezoning request, they addressed their concerns. “My concern is that if the drainage is unproperly built, it can cause flooding to residents in the area,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw. In response, Laplace stated that the applicant is required to meet DPNR standards for building the drainage. The applicant must submit engineering plans to DPNR before the start of the project.

“Will the road project be completed before building the establishment?” Sen. Jean Forde questioned. Attorney Joseph Caines, Attorney of the Law Office of Joseph Caines representing

Dr. Smith stated that the construction of the road may or shall be done either before or during the development of the first phase of The Ensemble Complex.

Sen. Novelle Francis inquired of who is fiscally responsible for expanding the roads from one lane to two lanes. Laplace said, “The cost for the road expansion is the responsibility of the petitioner.” Sen. Francis further asked, “Is all of the funding in place?” In response, Attorney Caines stated that not all the funding is in place for development, because it is a multi-million-dollar project. However, my client is confident that he will obtain financing to widen the road on an easement.”

Sen. Brian Smith shared his remarks on the zoning application. “Comparatively to neighboring islands, the Virgin Islands needs more business development. Sometimes we hold back development, and this occurred for over twenty years. It is time to move forward by supporting business ventures.”

Separately, policymakers also considered the following: Report on Petition to Amend Official Zoning Map No. STZ-7-Application No. ZAT-18-1 a petition of VI Christian Ministries (authorized agent, Attorney Jennifer Jones) requesting use variances to the R-1 (Residential-Low Density zoned Parcel No. 105 Remainder Estate Bolongo Bay, No.3 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, St. Thomas. The purpose of the request is to allow for office and storage use. The proposed method is to convert the former bowling alley to offices and storage.

Based on the report of Dawn Henry, Commissioner of DPNR, the public opposed the rezoning request because of the effects of traffic, pollution, sound and a possible increase in flooding. Sen. Tregenza Roach asked, “Considering that there aren’t any structural changes to the property, how accurate are these concerns?”  Well, some concerns did not have anything to do with the property or the project stated Attorney Jennifer Jones, Authorized Agent of the Property. “People like to create a problem in their mind that doesn’t exist,” said Sen. Smith.

Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media

 

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“I AM QUEEN MARY” PUBLIC ART PROJECT

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ST. THOMAS- The Office of Senator Myron Jackson, hosted the “I am Queen Mary: A Monument of a Rebel Queen Challenges Denmark’s Colonial Past.” The Public Art Project by Danish Artist Janette Ehlers and U.S. Virgin Islands Artist La Vaughn Belle held at the Capitol Building on Monday; is a significant part of Denmark’s colonial impact in the Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean.

“It is important us to understand the creativity of our artists and how it shapes history. This project represents 500 years of the history of the United States Virgin Islands. Today, there are images in public spaces including the Legislature. Each image is symbolic of the struggles, dignity, and strength of our people,” said Sen. Jackson.

The two artists collaborated to memorialize Queen Mary by creating a sculpture of her sitting in a peacock chair also known as a colonial chair while holding a torch and a whip in her hand. The statue of Queen Mary resembles power and strength. The concept of the sculpture connects to other resistance movements that occurred before Queen Mary and up to the present time.

Similarly, La Vaughn stated that the “I am Queen Mary” is significant because it connects to other movements in the African Diaspora that occurred many years later.

“This project resembles black lives matter which was started by three women. This resemblance is interesting to know because Queen Mary is a symbol. She has become a myth since there is not a lot of historical information on her. On St. Croix, she is a famous heroine. In Denmark, it appeared that the people had colonel amnesia. However, the people of color in Denmark began to see their relationship to this sculpture,” said La Vaughn.

Ehlers also shared her remarks.

“98% of public sculptures in Denmark are representing white males. It was challenging to have a space for black people where they positively see themselves. This statue represents injustice and the fight for freedom,” said Ehlers.

The proposed legislation supporting art in public spaces is An Act amending V.I Code title 3, chapter 5 adding subchapter III to enact The Virgin Islands Public Art Program requiring one percent of total capital improvement project costs expended for works of art placed in public buildings. Sen. Myron Jackson proposed this measure.

“What will the statue do for our future?” asked an event-goer. “This is our contribution to highlighting black culture and history. We encourage you to develop a curriculum, and we offer our support,” said Ehlers.

Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                           ###   

V.I. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION REQUESTS $172,209,001 FOR FY 2019

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony from the V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE), the Career of Technical Education and, the Bureau of Internal Revenue on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget appropriations.

The governor’s recommended budget for VIDOE is $172,209,001. In comparison to the appropriation for FY 2018, this is an increase of $5,158,171. The financial breakdown is as follows: $102,531,874 for personnel services, $45,987,889 for fringe benefits, $3,998,910 for supplies, $13,200,328 for other services and charges, and $6,500,000 for utilities. “The primary areas impacted by the increase mentioned above are salary increases for the proposed bargaining unions,” said Commissioner of Education Ann McCollum.

“Can you explain the increase of personnel services?” asked Sen. Jean Forde. Gerda Sebastian, Director of Business Affairs and Budget Control stated that $1,000,000 is for vacant positions, $10,000,000 for contractual negotiations, $1,800,000 to fund the Substitute Teacher Pool, $6,158,276 for exempt positions and $83,573,5898 for classified positions. “The recommended budget allows VIDOE to maintain its current staffing level of 2,195 employees,” added Commissioner McCollum.

“Who determined the figures of $10,000,000 for contractual services?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner McCollum stated that the Office of Management and Budget and the Chief Negotiator projected the numbers for FY 2019 for contractual services. Then Sen. Vialet inquired of the role of Witt O’Brien with VIDOE. Thomas Allen, Chief of Staff of VIDOE, stated that Witt O’Brien had provided hurricane disaster relief estimated at $150,000,000 to assist VIDOE throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Territory-wide, there was a total of 1,471,676 school lunches distributed through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and 503,073 breakfasts served through the School Breakfast Program (SBP) in the School Year 2017-2018. The combined reimbursements for SY 2016-2017 was $4,918,989.86. However, VIDOE experienced a decline in reimbursement for SY 2017-2018.

“Why is there a significant reduction in reimbursement for School Year 2017-2018?” inquired Marvin Blyden. Commissioner McCollum said, “The NSLP and the SBP have earned a combined reimbursement value of $1,673,143.47. The reimbursement loss of $3,245,846.39 is because of the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria; which has also adversely affected student enrollment.”

Separately, the Virgin Islands Career and Technical Education Board (CTEB) shared the FY 2019 recommended budget. Ilene Garner, Chair of CTEB stated that the governor’s recommended budget for FY 2019 is $509,350. The funds include $55,000 for textbooks, $45,000 for the National and Local Travel for students and $35,000 for teacher and professional development. “Technical programs are rapidly changing and becoming more complex. To ensure that our students are prepared to compete, they must stay on the cutting edge of existing and emerging technologies,” said Garner.

Similarly, Marvin Pickering, Director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue shared the governor’s recommended budget for FY 2019 totaling $12,578,546. The budget breakdown is as follows: $6,777,230 for personnel services, $3,027,688 for fringe benefits, $82,500 for supplies, $2,275,128 for other services and charges, $100,000 for capital outlays, $235,587 for communication and $316,000 for utilities.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Brian Smith, Neville James, Dwayne DeGraff, Tregenza Roach, Marvin Blyden and, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly                                                   Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                                           ###