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May 21, 2001 – In its first Fiscal Year 2002 budget hearing, the Senate Finance Committee took testimony from the V.I. Housing Authority Monday morning.
Conrad Francois II, VIHA executive director, in requesting a $5.7 million appropriation for next year, noted the agency has been running a deficit of about $ 4.2 million over the last 12 years. He told the senators his agency received only $850,000 in allotments for FY 2001.
Francois said the housing authority has consistently received appropriations below its basic level of services. Further, he said, the Office of Management and Budget allotments are below the appropriated levels, and emergency costs for water and health care services are never reimbursed.
For lack of local grant funding, Francois said, the agency has advanced money from its federal Housing and Urban Development program funds to cover the deficit "temporarily." He said HUD cannot be expected to cover the costs, as it doesn't provide funds for health and social services for housing residents.
Francois did have some good news. He said the newest housing authority community, Contant Knolls on St. Croix, may soon have a solution to its water problem. His 2002 budget request includes $220,000 for trucking water to the project, because the government does not have water service to its boundaries. But he said VIHA has been working with the Water and Power Authority on a community development program to get water to the project in 60 to 90 days.
In response to questioning by Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Francois said a bill that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law in January to combine the territory's three housing agencies — his, the V.I. Housing Finance Authority and the housing portion of the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department — under one umbrella has not yet been implemented.
He said he had recommended convening a task force to address the matter. "It's complex – not something to do in a matter of months," he said.
Responding to an inquiry from Sen. Douglas Canton, who chairs the Health and Hospitals Committee, Francois said the staffs of the territory's nursing homes are inadequate. He said the nursing staff at the Lucinda Millen Home on St. Thomas should "be doubled" and St. Croix's Estate Whim home "could be increased by one-third."
Francois also said demolition of the Donoe housing project is expected within a year, but the government, awaiting plans from HUD, has no redevelopment plan in place.
Ira Hobson, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner, gave a brief rundown on the Castle Burke development on St. Croix, thanking Hansen for her efforts in behalf of the project. With nearly a million dollars in federal funding, the construction of permanent homes is under way in the subdivision where residents lived for more than a decade in "temporary" mobile homes supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.
By law, the governor has until May 31 to submit his proposed FY 2002 budget. However, Finance Committee Chair Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said she wanted to get the jump on the hearing process. "We are beginning the process today in preparation for that submission," she said.
According to Hansen, the committee wants to write line-item budgets for government agencies, spelling out specific amounts the agencies can spend on individual items such as payroll and utilities. In a meeting last week, she said that the line-item utility appropriation would allow the Legislature to get a handle on the government's debt to the Water and Power Authority.
Hansen said she will offer a motion in the next full Senate session to direct the Finance Committee to write the line-item budgets. For the last several years, the Legislature has been appropriating lump-sum budgets to allow the individual departments and agencies to determine their own priorities.
Shortly after noon Monday, Hansen recessed the committee meeting, to resume in "one hour." However, a telephone call to the Legislature later revealed that the meeting stood "adjourned."
Present at the hearing were committee members Hansen, Cole, Canton, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn. Baptiste and Norma Pickard-Samuel.

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