Category: Senator Neville James

LEGISLATIVE HOME NOW ON THE HORIZON FOR THE BIG ISLAND

Download PDF

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.

 

###

 

LIMETREE BAY TERMINALS, LLC ARGUES FOR MAJOR CZM PERMIT

Download PDF

ST. CROIX--The Committee of the Whole, chaired by Senate President Myron D. Jackson, met on Wednesday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center where testimony was given on a Major Coastal Zone Management Permit.

Senators heard from several Limetree Bay Terminals L.L.C. management Executives regarding Major CZM Permit CZX-29-17 for a Single Point Mooring (SPM) to be constructed on the south of St. Croix. The project’s activities will be specifically located seaward of Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC Terminal Plot No. 9 Reclaimed Land, Christiansted.

In his testimony, Jason Gleason, Maine Terminal Pilot and Captain for Limetree Bay Terminals, said as Lead Superintendent in the Marine Department and Project Lead on the SPM Project, Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) are some of the largest vessels in the world often over 1100ft long and 200ft, wide and may have a draft of over 700ft.

He added that historically to call on St. Croix, a VLCC would need to be roughly half loaded, and so, this project will enable their customers to transport crude to and from the facility in full loaded VLCC, offering a much more efficient operation.

According to Gleason, the Limetree Bay SPM will transfer crude oil to and from the facility and with the upgraded crude pumps completed last year, they can load out at approximately 45,000 barrels per hour. He pointed out that, the SPM project has been designed to Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF); United States Coast Guard (USCG) and American Bureau #56 King Street, Hamilton House, Christiansted, St. Croix 00820 340-773-2424, Fax: 340-712-2397, E-mail: publicaffairs@legvi.org of Shipping (ABS) standard. Furthermore, the entire system is designed to withstand the extreme conditions often found in in the Caribbean region.

Senators, who expressed their concerns as they relate to the project’s impact on the ecosystem, was given assurance by Gleason that after an extensive environmental assessment and re-routing of the project to minimize environmental impact, it was determined that a few corals were still in the pathway of the project.

According to him, these corals will be transplanted well clear of the project by their environmental contractor, Bio Impact. They will also be constructing a man-made reef to provide additional habitat where some of the coral will be transplanted on both the south and north shores of St. Croix in areas already approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).

Gleason added that during construction, Bio Impact will be monitoring for turbidity, the effect on wildlife, and any other issues. Moreover, Bioimpact will stop the work immediately if any issues arise, and that they will work with DPNR and the federal government to remedy prior to resumption of construction.

In respect to local employment, Gleason told Senators that many of the materials to construct have been procured and delivered to St. Croix, and with the ratification by the legislature, they will commence construction as soon as possible. The construction phase, he added, will result in employment for laborers, concrete workers, welders, inspectors and painters on St. Croix.

Other testifiers for Limetree Bay Terminals were: Joyce Wakefield, Environmental Specialist; Amy Dempsey, President of Bio Impact; and Jeff Gorman, Engineer, Lloyds Engineers. Senators at Wednesday’s Committee of Whole Hearing were: Senate President, Myron D. Jackson, Vice-President, Rivera-O’Reilly, Jean A. Forde, Neville A. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Positive T.A. Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach, Sammuel Sanes, Janelle K. Sarauw, Brian A. Smith, and Kurt A. Vialet.

###

LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINEES, CZM AND ZONING REQUESTS DURING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Download PDF

ST. THOMAS– On Wednesday, Members of the 32nd Legislature, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building. Led by Senate President Myron Jackson, the Body considered zoning requests, CZM permits and several measures.

The meeting began with the consideration of the following Nominees:

  • Nelson Petty, Jr.– Commissioner, Dept. of Public Works
  • Elizabeth Armstrong (Reappointment)– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STX)
  • Stacy Bourne– Member, VI Casino Control Commission (STT/STJ)
  • Hubert Turnbull– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STT/STJ)
  • Julio Rhymer, Sr.– Director, Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
  • John A. Quelch– Member, University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees (STX)
  • Dina Perry-Malone– Member, VI Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (STT/STJ)

All Nominees were approved, however, Senators shared their concerns regarding their nominations and current issues in their respective agencies. “Our margin for error is minute,” Sen. DeGraff expressed. After thanking the Body, Nelson Petty, Jr., updated the Body on the status of Capital projects in the territory. “My focus has been on our capital projects and I am pleased to report three projects on St. Croix currently in the procurement phase and on St. Thomas, preconstruction began yesterday with the Veterans Drive project”.

The second block of the meeting considered the following Coastal Zone Management Permits and Zoning requests:

  • Bill No. 32-0153 – An Act ratifying the Governor’s approval of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZJ-20-11W issued to David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0154 – An Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-2-16 (L&W) issued to DUN RUN GOLF, LLC, for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant with 12” diameter, 140 feet intake line and 12-inch, 650 feet long outfall line located at Plot No. C-2-Q Estate Lovenlund, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0142 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 13AA Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter St. John from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density). The zoning request was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0181 – An Act granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 171 Estate Contant-Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands, to allow for the operation of a car rental business. The zoning request was passed and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0182 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 4-A Estate Cruz Bay Town, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, from B-3 (Business-Scattered) to B2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The zoning request was approved as adapted and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0187 – An Act rezoning Parcel No. 6D Estate Thomas, New Quarter, St. Thomas from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary Neighborhood) and from the B-2 zoning designation granting a use variance. The zoning request passed in its original format and forwarded to the Governor.

“We make a way for the big businesses, but not for the small players. We need to show them that we are sensitive to the small businesses, families,  and individuals trying to establish wealth,” stated Non-Majority Leader, Sen. Positive T.A. Nelson. Similar comments were expressed by the members of the Body after two zoning requests were removed from the agenda during the 2nd block.

 

The following bills were considered after press time:

 

  • Bill No. 32-0168–An Act amending Title 22 VI Code, Chapter 39, designating current sections 951 through 983 subchapterI, Section 984 as Subchapter II, and by adding a subchapter III entitled, “The Standard Forfeiture Law of 2018 for Life Insurance,” which meets the accreditation in its model laws and updates the insurance laws of the Virgin Islands of the United States placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions thereby affording greater and more effective protection to the policyholders in the Virgin Islands. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0065–An Act to appropriate the sum of $500,000 to the Economic Development Authority for “energy efficient” retrofitting of the Industrial Park on the island of St. Croix. Sponsored by Sen. Neville James, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0178–A Resolution to honor to commend the ALL HANDS and HEART-SMART RESPONSE. Proposed by Sen. Jean Forde, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0188–An Act appropriating $3,500,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for maintenance dredging of the Schooner Bay Channel. The measure, sponsored by Senators Kurt Vialetand Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0147–An Act amending Title 27 VI Code, Chapter 1, Subchapter I relating to the special restricted licensing of physicians and subchapter II (a) relating to the practice of telemedicine; amending Title 19, Chapter 15, relating to the licensing, inspection and regulation of healthcare facilities and health services; and amending Title 33, Chapter 3, relating to exemptions from the payment of gross receipts on all Medicaid and Medicare payments. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0175–An Act amending Title 29 VI Code, Chapter 12 to strengthen the Economic Development Commission. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0189–An Act amending Title 18 VI Code to reprogram the appropriation of Act No. 7904 to conduct the 2018 primaries and makes the appropriation available until expended. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jean Forde, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0059–An Act to amend Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9 relating to regulation of billboards. This bill enlarges the definition of “advertising device and bans the use of changeable 6 electronic variable message signs, digital billboards or smartboards that have animation, movement, or the appearance or optical illusion of movement. Sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, the measure was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0024–An Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, section 1 to provide for the position of Curator and amending title 31 Virgin Islands Code to add a chapter 42 establishing the Preservation of Historic Government Collections Act and for other purposes. Sponsored by Senate President Myron Jackson, the measure was approved as amended by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

The Bills can be accessed in their entirety on our website via Bill Tracker module: http://legvi.org:82/

 

 

###

 

 

 

 

COMMITTEE MEMBERS CONSIDER BILL TO TRANSFER ANN E. ABRAMSON MARINE FACILITY TO THE WEST INDIAN COMPANY, LTD.

Download PDF

St. Thomas – The Committee of the Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Neville James, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on several measures including Bill No. 32-0016- an Act authorizing the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) to transfer the management and operations of the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility on the island of St. Croix to the West Indian Company, Ltd. (WICO).

“Is it your opinion that VIPA is adequately managing and handling cruise ships at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility?” asked Sen. James. In response, David Mapp, Sr. Executive Director of VIPA said, “Cruise lines and VIPA’s facilities or management are not the issues. St. Croix needs to improve its shore excursion experience for their guests. This includes modern, air-conditioned buses for transporting cruise guests because that is provided by neighboring competition.”

Transferring the facility to WICO may not be conducive to the intent of the bill because of the lack of amenities offered to cruise ship passengers stated Clifford Graham, President/CEO of WICO. “One way to grow the excursion market on St. Croix is to incentivize the private sector for the development of additional excursions. Packages should include land and water tours in addition to several attractions.”

“If we are serious about increasing the number of excursions on St. Croix, we need to be serious about helping the private sector to develop and grow,” said Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Sponsor of the bill. “There are business permits that are stalled which results in the continued lack of amenities.”

In 2015, cruise ship visitors on St. Croix totaled 159,353. Since then passengers declined to 117,138 in 2016, 32,634 in 2017 and to-date 27,665 in 2018; per statistical data provided by Senior Policy Analyst of the Bureau of Economic Development Donnie Dorsett.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes inquired if improvements can be made to the tourism product. Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Tourism Beverly Nicholson Doty stated that the critical matter remains the Virgin Islands product offering. “Cruise lines are centered around the availability and capacity of tours, shopping and dining experiences close to the port and the time required for Customs and Border Protection to clear the vessel,” added Commissioner Doty.

“The Virgin Islands needs a new tourism product because it is currently stale. On St. Thomas, the stores on Main Street are very similar. Local vendors sell unique cultural products. However, vendors are stationed at Vendors Plaza. We have to recognize the value of the Territory and what we have to offer,” said Sen. Positive Nelson.

Ultimately, lawmakers voted to hold in committee Bill No. 32-0016.

Similarly, the senators also considered and voted the following to be held in committee:

  • Bill No. 32-0096 – An Act amending Title 29, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 12 subchapter I, sections 703, 710, and 712 relating to the employment requirements of a resident under the Economic Development Program
  • Bill No. 32-0104 – An Act to conduct a Feasibility Study on the implementation of a Composting Program in the Virgin Islands

However, Lawmakers considered and approved the following:

  • Bill No. 32-0009 – An Act amending Title 29, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 12 as it relates to investment requirement for an Economic Development Authority Certificate

 

V.I. DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM AND OTHER AGENCIES SHARES POST-HURRICANES UPDATE

Download PDF

St. Thomas- The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Neville James, held a meeting on Friday, at the Capitol Building to receive testimony from officials from the U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) on the status post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Thus far, 4,420 people were accommodated with 1,385 units in hotels, villas and Airbnb on the St. Croix District stated Commissioner of the Department of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty. Similarly, on the St. Thomas-St. John District 11,000 people were accommodated weekly with over 2,503 units available. Major airlines such as Spirit, Delta, and Jet Blue Airways will increase services to the Territory gradually in the next several months. Unfortunately, there is an anticipated 30% reduction of cruise arrivals to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Considering that there will be over 5,000 tourists flying into St. Croix per week for 2018, what was the number for 2017?” asked Sen. Brian Smith. Commissioner Doty stated that 6,000 visitors flew into St. Croix weekly last year. However, if that number was to increase there will be a challenge with accommodations because some hotels still do not have a definitive re-open date.

“The lack of hotel accommodations makes me wonder about the quality of available units,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. “Does Tourism monitors customer satisfaction for Airbnb?” He asked. Commissioner Doty said, “One of the challenges post-hurricanes is that we do not know where are all the Airbnb locations. Therefore, we are unable to effectively monitor the service.”

Marketing strategies for the Department of Tourism include promoting volunteer projects for tourists, launching the “Still Nice” social media campaign, updating the website and hosting press trips in the upcoming months.  Some of the press trips are the Marine Industry, St. Croix Food & Wine, St. Thomas Carnival, Agriculture Fair, and the St. John Villas. Sen. Positive Nelson stated that Tourism needs to expand their marketing plan. “In addition to Agriculture Tourism, there should be Cannabis Tourism, Health Tourism, and Conference Tourism. The Department can capitalize on all aspects of tourism. However, they are not.”

“Can you expound on the relationship with the Department of Tourism and VIDOA?”  asked Sen. James. Commissioner Doty said, “We promote Agriculture Tourism by inviting media to various events, and introducing locally grown crops to tourists as it relates to their culinary experience.”

Separately, the post-hurricane update of VIDOA is as follows: The administrative building on St. Thomas sustained flooding and mold. The greenhouse was damaged, and there is limited road access to farms due to erosion. On St. John, the Coral Bay Office, greenhouse and adjacent buildings sustained damages. St. Croix administrative offices and two greenhouses were compromised. The expanded irrigation system in the Community Gardens and the LaReine Vegetable Market was adversely affected. The territory-wide destruction of the greenhouses and seedlings sales has negatively impacted revenues. VIDOA does not have disaster funds stated Carlos Robles, Commissioner of VIDOA.

“The Territory is in a unique situation because our suppliers in Florida and Puerto Rico also suffered hurricane-related damages,” said Sen. Kurt Vialet. He asked, “Do you know when will the greenhouses be re-built?” Commissioner Robles said, “This is a tightrope because FEMA will reduce the funds if a permanent structure for the greenhouse is established.”

Sen. Marvin Blyden asked, “Since VIDOA lost 90,000 gallons of water from one of the storage tanks on St. Croix, will the department relocate the tanks to avoid future damages in the future?” Commissioner Robles stated that finding an adequate location is a challenge.

Separately, the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) and the West Indian Company, Ltd. (WICO) shared an update. Damien Cartwright, Assistant Executive Director/Director of Engineering of VIPA, said, “There are $85 million in hurricane-related damages to port facilities. However, most ports were reopened shortly after both storms to enable emergency personnel and supplies to arrive timely in the Territory.” Post-hurricanes repairing/rebuilding the airports and seaports are a priority. Lamartec, Inc. was selected by VIPA to be the Construction Manager at Risk for hurricane restoration projects throughout the Territory.

Clifford Graham, President and CEO of WICO stated that post-hurricanes there were utility poles, trees, sediments and sunken boats deposited in the inner berth. VIPA applied for an emergency dredging permit, and when granted the work began in October 2017.  A total of 1,100 cubic yards of debris and sediments were removed from the inner berth. The dredging enabled WICO to host three cruise ships in November 2017. Hurricane damages sustained to WICO facilities included holes in the roofs, missing windows and doors, missing parts of the perimeter fencing and broken light poles.

Senators present are Neville James, Positive Nelson, Marvin Blyden, Tregenza Roach, Dwayne DeGraff, Janette Millin Young and Brian Smith.                                                   `

###

BILLS TO IMPROVE ECONOMY IN U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS MOVES FORWARD

Download PDF

St. Thomas – The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Neville James, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, and voted to approve amendments to Bill No. 32-0136 as it relates to the Hotel Development Act, and Bill No. 32-0137 as it pertains to the Tax Incremental Financing Act.

The intent of the amendments of the bills, seeks to harmonize the Hotel Development Act and the Tax Incremental Financing Act by allowing both statues to collaborate for the development of hotels and infrastructures in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The Legislature is aware of the need of the Territory to make a commitment on all economic levels. For those who are not aware of our current financial status, in the past $9 million was appropriated for the General Fund. Those days may be long gone,” said Sen. James. “Recently, the governor submitted a budget that is significantly decreased. These two measures allow for the Virgin Islands to generate monies that can lead to economic and job growth.”

Sen. Kurt Vialet, Sponsor of both bills stated that the amendments to the existing bills are crucial to building the economy. “These amendments are designed to lure investors to the Territory and build new hotels on St. Thomas and St. Croix. At this point, St. Croix is in dire need of the development of a major hotel and it is also necessary to re-brand our tourism product on St. Thomas,” said Sen. Vialet.

“What are the benefits of these measures?” asked Sen. Sammuel Sanes. George Dudley, partner in the law firm Dudley, Topper and Feuerzeig, LLP and counsel to the Water Island Development Co., LLC said, “These amendments take on an even greater significance with the recent developments regarding the credit worthiness of the Territory by national credit rating agencies. It will unlock the key to allow the government re-emerge into the bond market.”

One of the revenue generating projects that will be positively impacted by the bills is the development of Water Island. “The Water Island Development Co., LLC will develop a hotel, a marina, veterans and mixed income housing, roads, underground utilities, a waste water treatment plant and other infrastructure on Water Island,” said Dudley.

“You stated that the cost of this development is $430 million and that it will be funded by private entities and revenue bonds. However, you mentioned without these amendments the revenue bond financing for the development is needed to start the development of Water Island,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach, “This is contrary to my assumption that all of the financing is already in place.”

In response, Dudley stated that the monies from private capital are there. However, the revenue bond financing is needed to develop roads and related infrastructures. “Revenues that are generated from both aspects are needed to bring the project forward,” said Dudley.

“What is the guarantee that jobs that are created from this project, will go to locals?” inquired Sen. Nereida O’Reilly. Dudley said, “Construction will be done using local labor and contractors. I am committed to ensuring this project will have a big impact towards local employment.”

In a line of questioning, Sen. Brian Smith inquired about the proposed number of local employees who will be hired, estimated acreage of the hotel and marina development and the time line of the start of this project. In response, Dudley said, “Hundreds of local people will be employed. There will be hundreds of acreages needed to build the development. Lastly, once the bills are passed, the project will begin 90 days after all permits are approved.”

Separately, Sen. James asked, “Can you explain how the tax increment financing will benefit the Virgin Islands?” In response, Dudley said, “There will be incremental increases in the homes that will be built, marina and hotel occupancies. The tax increase will be used to support the bonds. It is important to know that this revenue bond structure does not expose the Territory to liabilities or risks associated by the developer with the bonds.”

Ultimately, lawmakers unanimously voted favorably for both measures. All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

###

 

 

 

SENATOR JAMES COMMITTEE GETS UPDATES FROM DOT, DOA AND EDA

Download PDF

On Tuesday, the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Neville James, held a public hearing in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.

The Committee received updates from Beverly Nicholson Doty, Commissioner, Department of Tourism (DOT); Carlos Robles, Commissioner, Department of Agriculture (DOA); and Wayne Biggs, Acting CEO, Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Chairman James asked committee members and other Senators to focus their questions on the operations of these agencies. In doing so, he said the committee would be able to get a better understanding as to how the Senate could work with them in formulating a mandate so as to raise the possibility in generating revenues and/or extending funding.

In her testimony, the DOT Commissioner highlighted some of their public relations efforts for fiscal year 2016. According to Doty, in late December 2016, they pitched a story about the Department’s Centennial promotion and the ripple effect of that story resulted in more than 250 additional print and broadcast placements; that, she added, resulted in more than 4 billion impressions from this coverage.

The Commissioner said Centennial promotion in 2017 resulted in 1,513 total packages to date with a total of 6,355 room nights and almost $4 million in economic impact. She told the committee that cruise traffic has not registered the same growth as overnight visitors. According to her, the Virgin Islands had a significant reduction in calls in 2016 and this trend is projected unfortunately to continue through 2018.

In regards to DOT advertising initiatives, the Commissioner pointed out that between January and September 2017, $3 million will be invested in advertising. As for their sales, they have participated in 30 trade shows; conducted 85 training and educational seminars and completed 3,000 sales calls.

The DOA Commissioner, Robles said more that 97-percent of our foods are imported from around the world. The administration’s goal he added is to find ways to rebuild the agriculture industry in the territory and to create marketing linkage between the growers, buyers and consumers.

They have already started an initiative with our public schools, said Robles. In November 2016, approximately 3,345 lbs of pumpkins were supplied to the School Food Authority during Thanksgiving week. Furthermore, they have launched the “Melonmania” campaign which supplied 8,831 lbs of melons to the DOE and distributed to every public school throughout the territory.

EDA CEO Biggs will be using a variety of media to inform both local community and external potential investors about their programs and services. Biggs informed committee members that the Economic Development Bank (EDB) is administrating the State Small Business Credit Initiative Program, which provides loan guarantees for small businesses.

According to him, the Territory receives an SSBCI allotment of $13.2 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury; a total of $9.6 million has been expanded or committed. Additionally, there are several new loan requests totaling approximately $1.755 million in the pipeline.

In regards to the EDC program, Biggs said fifteen (15) applications have been presented to the Governing Board for consideration since October 2016, of which thirteen (13) were approved with a favorable recommendation to be submitted to the Governor. Eight (8) applications have been approved by the governor thus far this fiscal year and an additional two (2) applications are pending his decision.

He added that fourteen (14) certificates of benefits have been drafted for this fiscal year and of these, based upon the comments made, the Territory will realize approximately $64.5 million in capital investment, new and continued employment at a minimum of 639 full-time employees, and $1.2 million in charitable contributions annually.

On a positive note, CEO Biggs said the overall financial health of the Authority continues to improve in regards to collections compared to the same period last year. He pointed out that EDB collections are up by 14-percent; EDC annual compliance fee collections are up by 12-percent; and the Economic Development Park Cooperation (EDPC) rent collections are up by 8-percent.

Committee members at Tuesday’s hearing were Chairman, Senator Neville James, Brian Smith, Sammuel Sanes, Dwayne Degraff, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Positive Nelson, and Tregenza Roach. Non-Committee members were Senators Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

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.

###

Please be patient with the transition of the new Website from the old. The information is being updated on a daily basis