Nov. 9, 2001 – The 24th Legislature had a field day into the night Thursday, passing amendment after amendment totaling more than $5 million, overriding select vetoes Gov. Charles W. Turnbull made last month — including a $700,000 Legislature capital improvement outlay the governor had red penciled — and moving to petition Congress to come to the aid of Virgin Islands taxi drivers.
The amendments were attached to a bill to take $4.4 million from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund for repair and maintenance of the territory's waste management system. The amended appropriations bring the bill's spending to $9.6 million.
The total amount appropriated is to come mainly from the General Fund but also, in some instances, from not only Anti-Litter and Beautification but also the Industrial Development Fund, the Land Bank Fund and interest on bond proceeds. Some of the appropriation amendments did not specify the source of funding.
The amendment appropriations ranged from $30,000 for the Eulalie Rivera School Steppers' travel expenses and $4,000 for a chain-link fence around the Joseph Gomez School tennis courts to $800,000 to upgrade Motor Vehicle Bureau facilities and $1.7 million to pay mandatory overtime, fringe benefits and other personnel costs at both of the territory's hospitals and St. John's community health center.
Several of the amendments appropriated funds to the Education Department — $800,000 to pay food service workers and several amounts for school repairs.
After having approved the governor's request for allocating the territory's 2001 Community Development Block Grant without any changes last month, the senators reprogrammed some of the federal CDBG funds Thursday night, including reducing $220,000 earmarked for a Frenchtown fishing pavilion to $100,000.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. offered the resolution to petition Congress to exempt taxi operators on St. John from the permit fees required of tour operators within the V.I. National Park. "The people of St. John are disgusted," he said. "We are not going to let this happen."
White, who champions the taxi drivers at every turn, intimated there was a plot behind the new imposition of fees. "They're in cahoots," he said, referring to Park Supt. John King; Judy Reeves, owner of the St. Thomas tour boats Kon Tiki and Island Girl; and Delegate Donna Christian Christensen. "It seems as if the delegate and Mr. King and Judy Reeves are in collusion against the taxi drivers of St. John," he said.
As is her wont, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel backed up White's statements. "The National Park Service has taken advantage of the people of this territory for far too long," she said. "The Park Service is a bunch of thieves. They have stolen land from the people of St. John."
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole praised the park for its "significant contribution" to ecology and tourism in the territory, but added: "The park must become a good corporate citizen. If they don't, they will become an extinct and dying species."
The rift between park authorities and the taxi drivers has developed because the park intends under its new Commercial Services Plan to start charging taxi associations, land tour companies and taxi drivers who conduct independent tours an annual permit fee to take visitors into the park, effective Jan. 1.
Park officials held public meetings spanning a year and a half seeking input during the developing of the Commercia Services Plan, which received extensive media. But many taxi drivers claim the move is unfair, that they didn't know about the impending fees, or that any fee is too much.
Park Supt. John King appeared before the Senate Committee of the Whole Monday night on St. John after having attended an Oct. 25 meeting called by Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd to talk about the tour permit fees. Some senators urged him to involve the Senate in reaching resolution with the taxi drivers, but King said it would not happen. "It is not their prerogative to engage in policymaking for the national park," he said of the legislators.
King said Wednesday that park authorities will attempt to get a group of tour operators and taxi drivers to come together to develop a workable plan that would satisfy both groups. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to strike some reasonable compromise," he said. The taxi drivers, who were having none of it, assailed park officials.
Meanwhile, senators went about the business of overriding Turnbull's veto of some of their favorite items.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen successfully got an override of the governor's veto of extending the property tax amnesty retroactive to Aug. 13. Turnbull had approved an extension of the amnesty to Dec. 31 but had line-item vetoed the retroactive section.
Hansen also successfully got appropriations totaling $140,000 for St. Croix swimming and other sports teams.
White led the successful effort to override the governor's veto of an act which restricts government retirees to borrowing $8,000. They can now apply for a loan from the Government Employees Retirement System of up to $50,000. "Some of them have more annuity than working people — let them use it," White said.
Other veto overrides restored legislation to:
– Appropriate $10,000 to assist veterans and their spouses to travel to veterans' facilities off island.
– Authorize the government to recruit retired police officers, nurses and teachers to fill shortages.
– Authorize the Public Employees Relations Board to hire a full-time director.
Other legislation passed would:
– Provide for an indefinite moratorium on issuance of taxi medallions and operator badges.
– Require the Public Services Commission to investigate Innovative Telephone's rates for the period dating back to the last full investigation. Last week the PSC said the investigation would only cover the last year. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg strongly objected to that, saying that period would reveal nothing, since the company had since changed procedures.
– Extend the exclusive franchises held by Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services of St. John to operate passenger ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John until 2036. An amendment gives the franchises 100 percent exemptions on property, franchise, excise and income tax surcharges.
The body passed rezonings for:
– Kenneth Marsh in Coral Bay, St. John, for a grocery store.
– Frank Powell in Cruz Bay, St. John, to subdivide an acre of land for his children.
– Oliver Delingy on St. Thomas for a bed and breakfast business.
– The Harthman family on St. Thomas for commercial develoment.
– John Fredericks in Cruz Bay, St. John, for a concrete mixing company.
– Boynes-Jackson property, St. John, for offices and storage.
Two government lease agreements were approved — with the John's Folly Learning Institute and with Alford Mannix Auto Repair.

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