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SENATORS AGREEABLE TO BLOCK GRANT AWARDS

Aug. 29, 2003 – Senators listened to pleas from a bevy of public and not-for-profit agencies in the St. Thomas-St. John district on Thursday night as the Committee of the Whole met to consider the administration's proposal for divvying up the territory's 2003 Community Development Block Grant of $1.95 million in federal funds.
Pleas for more funding fell on receptive ears but, as usual, the requests vastly exceed the funds available. Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett said his department, which administers the grants, received 77 funding requests totaling $10 million. None of them were deemed unworthy, he said, but "there are simply insufficient funds."
The senators concurred with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposals for distributing the new CDBG funds and for reprogramming $789,671 in previously awarded funds. For the list of agencies and funding recommended, see "38 projects proposed for 2003 CDBG funds".
As is customary, the proposed allocations are divided equally between the two districts. The grant awards total $780,000 for St. Croix, $620,000 for St. Thomas and $160,000 for St. John. The proposal also earmarks $390,000 for administration of the grant program by the Capital and Development Planning Division of the executive branch.
"This year, we received a total of 37 public service proposals," Plaskett said. "We recommended that 21 of these projects be funded." They include a number of after-school programs, domestic violence intervention and a boost for the proposed Frenchtown Fishing Facility. The great majority of the grants are aimed at assisting low-income and middle-income families, with the emphasis on young people.
The after-school programs are aimed at serving youngsters who otherwise, left to their own devices, could be vulnerable to juvenile delinquency. Louise Peterson, Methodist Training and Outreach Center director, said her organization has conduced after-school programs for three years, providing the students with homework assistance, counseling and computer training.
Naomi Monsanto, president of We from Upstreet Inc., said her organization has been working with J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary school for four years, accommodating neighborhood youngsters in educational, academic and cultural programs.
Larry Joshua, director of the V.I. block grant program since 1988, said such programs keep children out of trouble between the time that they get out school and the time that their parents get home from work.
Senators, too, expressed the wish that more could be done.
"There are so many worthwhile programs," Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said. "DPNR is trying to give a piece of the pie to everyone."
Sen. Roosevelt David said that "when we help these programs, we help the community."
In response to a query from David, Plaskett said no more federal block grant money is available this year. He said despite DPNR's best efforts, "we have not received any additional funds."
However, Plaskett suggested another possible funding source. He told David that companies receiving Economic Development Commission tax breaks "need to make charitable contributions to entities that did not receive funding." He said he knows that a few EDC beneficiaries are willing to put up such funding to assist deserving organizations that received little or no block grant funding.
White took issue with one proposed allocation — for a new community center in Savan that he said will be four blocks away from the existing Romeo Malone Savan Community Center.
The government wants to purchase a building for $125,000 for the proposed facility, White said. "Worthwhile programs are being put to the side to fund a community center in Savan when it already has one," he said.
The $125,000 is among the proposals for the reprogramming of funds from earlier years that have not been expended. The grant is listed as the "V.I. Heritage Museum Development to be used for tours of Savan."
Several senators asked Joshua who owns the building in question. He said he didn't recall.
Sen. Louis Hill expressed gratitude for the additional $60,000 proposed for continuing improvement of the Frenchtown Fishing Facility, which he praised as helping the fishermen and providing a "unique" venue for tourists.
CDBG funding of $100,000 was approved for the project in 2001, but that proved insufficient to complete the work. Plans for the facility, part of an overall waterfront enhancement project, call for constructing a covered pavilion fronted by palm trees and containing two public restrooms.
"The last time I brought up this subject, I was crucified by some senators," Hill recalled. It was as St. Thomas-Water Island administrator that he proposed the funding in 2001. The proposal was hotly denounced at the time by Sens. Norma Pickard-Samuel and White, who compared the funding to just $40,850 proposed for renovation of the American Legion facility on St. Thomas and accused Hill of putting the fishing facility ahead of worthy faith-based projects.
The two vowed the fishing facility would not be funded. However, both senators were absent for the vote on the allocation bill. Funding for the facility was approved, but greatly reduced from the initially proposed level of $220,000.
For this year's allocations, the Committee of the Whole heard testimony from the St. Croix district agencies on Wednesday night.
The block grant allocation bills are to be considered in a full Senate session scheduled for Sept. 3 and 4.

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