ST.THOMAS - Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, at the request of Governor Kenneth Mapp, convened in Special Session on Wednesday, and voted unanimously to send several measures to committee for further vetting, including Bill No. 32-0091 as it relates to reprogramming $3 million from available funding to address emergency sewage line problems at the Juan F. Luis Hospital.
Funding for the initiative would have come from increasing an appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the General Fund, a contribution from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, and reprogramming $3 million from any available fund in the Gross Receipt Tax Bonds or Community Facilities Trust Account.
Rising out of Legislative Session and into the Committee of the Whole, senators received testimony from Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFL).
“The $3 million appropriation will be utilized for JFL for emergency repairs and replacement of its sewer infrastructure,” said Evangelista. He stated that additional financial challenges include the immediate measures to sustain operations totaling $78,940, in costs associated with the relocation of the Emergency Department operations totaling $50,410 and the availability of mid-level clinical staff to expedite service in the triage area totaling $48,000.
Sen. Novelle Francis inquired, “How did you come up with the necessity of $3 million for the sewer infrastructure?” Tim Lessing, Chief Financial Officer at JFL, stated that as of Fall 2016, a portion of the drainage system collapsed and was down for six months. This estimate is based on the square footage of all the areas in which the system needs to be replaced.
“In terms of moving forward, what plans do you have to prevent this from reoccurring?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Evangelista said, “We will continue to assess the entire sewage system and devise an architectural design to improve the infrastructure. Currently, relocating the existing system is a temporary measure.”
Regarding the reprogramming of funding for the twenty-three capital projects, President Jackson asked, “Why were some capital projects selected to be completed with the leftover funds while others were not?” In response, Valdamier Collens, Executive Director of the V.I. Public Finance Authority said, “While some projects were not started, most of the capital projects are left over funds from the completed projects. The remainder funds are to be utilized to complete critical projects such as the JFL, Schneider Regional Medical Center and other agencies.”
Separately, Sen. Kurt Vialet requested the financial breakdown of the $18.2 million that was generated from the excise taxes earned and collected on Virgin Islands rum sold within the U.S. market. In response, Collens said, “The breakdown is as follows from Cruzan Rum, the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) will receive $3.16 million and the rum company will receive $2.69 million. From Diageo, GVI will receive $6.29 million and the rum company will receive $5.67 million and the Community Facilities Trust Fund will receive $3,700.”
Other proposed legislation sent by Governor Mapp on the agenda included establishment of a single horse racing commission anti-doping legislation; acquiring land in Estate La Grange for completion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium complex; repairs at sporting facilities at Kirwan Terrace, Joseph Aubain, and Emile Griffith ballparks; acquisition of a residential nursing facility on St. Thomas; funding for A/C for Schneider Hospital; and improvements to some of the territory’s public schools cafeterias, bathrooms, administrative offices, and other maintenance needs.
Eventually, lawmakers rose out of the Committee of the Whole and went back into Special Session, in which they voted to send the following to committee: Bill No. 32-0091, Bill No. 32-0094, Bill No. 32-0090, Bill No. 32-0089, Bill No. 32-0088, Bill No. 32-0088, Bill No. 32-0087, Bill No. 32-0092 and Bill No. 32-0093.