Sept. 4, 2002 – The unsettled issue of paying for the territory's street lighting surfaced again Tuesday as the Senate Finance Committee voted down a Public Works Department request to have funds earmarked for utilities transferred to pay waste haulers.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, the committee chair, and Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel opposed the $911,588 transfer, citing the need for well-lighted streets to help prevent crime. Sens. Carlton Dowe and Norman Jn Baptiste voted for the transfer, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole abstained, and Sens. Douglas Canton and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg were absent.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood told the senators he needed the transfer to cover the cost of carnival cleanup activities and to pay trash haulers' overdue accounts. After the meeting, Callwood was incensed at the committee's rejection of the transfer. According to a report in The Avis on Wednesday, Callwood said, "Trash is going to start piling up. This means these guys don't get paid."
The Senate transferred responsibility for the territory's street lighting from Public Works to the Water and Power Authority last December, but WAPA has yet to see any funding to cover the costs of taking over the work.
Cole asked Ira Mills, director of the Office and Management, why $1.9 million the Senate appropriated to WAPA early this year for lighting maintenance has not been allocated. According to The Avis, Mills pointed out that WAPA has asked the Public Services Commission for a surcharge to pay for the lighting. He said, "Always try to put this in proper perspective. Either we pay WAPA or we pay the garbage haulers. I don't want to risk their going on strike and garbage being a danger to this community."
The PSC is scheduled to hear WAPA's request for the surcharge at a Sept. 12 meeting. WAPA officials have said they need a surcharge of about $1.50 per month on residential billings in order to provide street lighting services.
Callwood told the committee that part of DPW's solid-waste funding ordinarily used to pay the contractors was released by OMB to cover the cost of carnival cleanup, causing a shortfall in the budget for solid waste.
The Avis quoted Pickard-Samuel: "I am not prepared to support a transfer from utilities, as dark as these islands are." Street light repair is imperative in seeking to contain crime in the territory, especially on St. Croix, where a major cruise line cited crime as the reason for its pullout from the island, she said.
The committee approved transfers of:
– $1.86 million in Human Services Department funds, for several programs including utilities at Charles Harwood Hospital for the Head Start program, residential programs for people with behavioral disorders; and supplies for homes for the aged.
– $794,456 in Planning and Natural Resources Department funds, to cover several initiatives including library supplies and new equipment which would allow the use of debit and credit cards for departmental application fees.
– $218,399 in Office of the Governor funds, to pay vendors through the end of Fiscal Year 2002 on Sept. 30.
– $416,498 in Finance Department funds, to pay for supplies, overtime wages and capital improvement projects.
– $36,691 in Tourism Department funds, to pay a person fired by the governor but recently reinstated by a court ruling.
The meeting ended abruptly when Hansen was called away by a personal emergency. Two items were left on the agenda; she said they would be heard at a later date. They are:
– Consideration of an application for a federal grant $398,070 by Fishermen's United Services Cooperative of St. Croix, for a demonstration project to strengthen and develop the VI. fishing industry.
– Consideration of Bill No. 24-0151, to amend Act 673 at it relates to Altona community development and Act 6134 as it relates to Castle Burke.
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