FINANCE COMMITTEE PASSES INCENTIVE BILLS AND LEASE AGREEMENTS

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ST. CROIX– The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met Tuesday in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas, to consider several pieces of proposed legislation.

Bill No.33-0129, an Act amending Act No. 7589 to extend the time within which the Enterprise Zone Commission may confer benefits of the Virgin Islands Code to areas designated as Commercial Zone, proposed by Senator Myron D. Jackson.

In his testimony, Wayne Biggs, Jr., Assistant Chief Executive Officer/Chief Operating Officer, Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority (VIEDA), said his agency is in full support of the proposed legislation.

He added that the new extended sunset date in the Bill would allow for the development of Commercial Zones. According to him, they believe that the Commercial Zone program is an economic development tool that will attract business investments and incentive projects to occur within the recommended zones on each island after the designation of the Commercial Zones by the Governor of the Virgin Islands.

The VIEDA’s CEO indicated that these investments could significantly improve the designated areas in each town throughout the Territory by creating business and economic renewal opportunities through the Commercial Zone tax incentive benefits.

The next item on the agenda was Bill No. 33-0143, an Act amending the Virgin Islands code by clarifying existing provisions of the Tax Incremental Financing Program proposed by Senator Vialet.

Marjorie Rawls Roberts, sole shareholder of the law firm of Marjorie Rawls Roberts, P.C. stated in her testimony that with the approval of Bill No.33-0143 it expands project eligibility for Tax Increment Financing by broadening the term  “District” to include any geographical area within the Virgin Islands, and that it incorporates terms and definitions to allow it to be used in conjunction with the Hotel Development Act (HDA) and using terms that are defined consistently with the HDA. She urged the Legislature to work closely with the EDA because they have the resources, whether they be technology, human resources, or training, to effectively administer both the HDA and the Tax Increment Financing programs.

Speaking to both Bill No. 33-0129 and Bill No. 33-0143, the Committee Chair, Sen. Vialet, said it is important that we provide incentives to encourage developers to come to the Virgin Islands. He pointed out that these incentives are not “giveaways,” rather, they are incentives to attract much-needed development, particularly in the St. Croix district. The Bills were voted out of the Committee with favorable recommendations and sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Bill No.33-0806, an Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the Commissioner of the Department of Property (P&P) and Procurement and Commercial Property Management (CPM) LLC. The lease encompasses the leasing of Parcel No. 40 Estate Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas proposed by Senator Vialet. In his testimony, Vincent Richards, Commissioner of Department of Property, and Printing Division (DPP) said the term of the agreement with CPM is 20 years, and the Lease Agreement provides for two 10-year renewal option periods.

According to Richards, the property consisted of two (2) story buildings and will be used as the main office for a commercial property management company and the remaining spaces will be sub-leased to other tenants. He added that CPM intends to make a substantial immediate and sustained long-term investment of approximately $150,000 to (1) improve the interior and exterior aesthetics, (2) upgrade the electrical and plumbing, and (3) maintain the conditions of the building and its surrounding properties.

Raquel John-Baptiste, CPA for CPM, said they envision a multi-complex that will accommodate multiple offices or businesses from diversified industries. The property itself consists of a masonry building, and as such their infrastructure improvements and enhancements will focus on strengthening and fortifying the existing structure. She told the Committee that the building and property experienced neglect for a long time and sustained significant hurricane damage. She added that they are willing to completely utilize their funds to restore the building to its potential.

Bill Request 19-0881, an Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands through the Commissioner of P&P and FIBERNET, Inc. for the leasing of Parcel Nos. 95 and 95A Estate Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, proposed by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. According to DPP Commissioner Richards, this property will be used to operate the main Office for a company that installs, develops, repairs, and maintains computer programs. Systems, and other related purposes. He added that the Lease Agreement would allow FIBERNET to redesign the properties that were severely impacted by Hurricane Irma and Maria, into a modern designed facility and that the company shall provide at its own cost and expense improvements at an estimated cost of $750,000.

BR 19-0715, an Act approving the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands acting through Commissioner of P&P and Total Auto Package, LLC for Parcel No. 128A Submarine Base, No.6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas, proposed by Senator Vialet. Jason Jackson, the owner of Total Auto Package, said his property is principally a garage and repair shop, car leasing, motor vehicle dealer, automobile storage service, importer of goods incorporated in March 2009.

He added that development plans for this establishment require an investment of approximately $250,000. The unimproved land needs heavy exaction of rocks, boulders, shrubs, and other debris. He said it is necessary to grade the property to accommodate trucks and other equipment for transportation delivery of building material supplies.

During his testimony, Commissioner Richards said during the terms of these Lease Agreements; all the potential Leases are required to keep in full force and effect a policy of public liability and property damage insurance.

The lease agreements were approved by the Committee and sent to the Full Body for further consideration.

Committee members at Tuesday’s meeting were Chairman, Senator Kurt A. Vialet, Oakland Benta, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, and Janelle Sarauw. Non-Committee members present were Senators Myron Jackson and Novelle Francis Jr.

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