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Senate Considers Bill to Fix Motor Vehicle Bureau

June 15, 2005 — In an effort to create a more autonomous Motor Vehicle Bureau, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg on Wednesday resubmitted a bill, originally drafted three years ago, to the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection.
"The reason that this bill was tabled before," explained Donastorg to Police Commissioner Elton Lewis, is because when we first suggested this in response to problems being experienced at the DMV, you assured me that you had a plan that could fix them. Now here we are, three years later, and nothing’s better."
Referring to substantial complaints from residents regarding services rendered by the MVB, the Senate body was seeking to rectify problems such as inefficient facilities, a lack of funding and manpower, as well as general management concerns relating to the entire Department of Public Safety.
Donastorg's bill called for the separation of the MVB from the V.I. Police Department in order to form an organization that would be able to function more competently with its own budget.
As a revenue-generating agency for the V.I. government, the MVB currently accumulates approximately $8 million to $10 million annually in monies deposited directly into the General Fund. Because the Bureau only uses between $500,000 and $700,000 of this sum per year in order to purchase resources for its facilities, Donastorg's bill proposes that 10 percent of the revenue generated by the MVB—or $1 million if 10 percent of revenue is not sufficient enough from MVB operations—be placed in an account separate from the General Fund. This money would consequently be used to provide supplies and other resources for the MVB throughout the year.
Lewis favors separate account, not separate agency
Commissioner Lewis, though not in favor of the formation of a separate agency, did support the budget measure, and stated the adoption of this concept — called a rotating fund — into his own long-term plan for the V.I. Police Department.
"I definitely believe that the MVB can use this for its operating budget," Lewis said, "and then we wouldn’t have to go through the time and process needed to access these monies from the General Fund."
Lewis added that the separation of this fund may also help to alleviate concerns regarding the inefficiency of the Public Safety Department’s chain of command, or the number of officials needed to approve financial or employment requests once they have been made within the organization.
Lewis, who is appointed by the governor, said that he has neither the authority to hire nor fire employees, nor control over requests for additional funding.
"The rotating fund will allow the MVB to access that money directly instead," he concluded.
MVB "no longer functioning efficiently," says director
Senators' concerns over this issue increased with additional testimony given by Lawrence Olive, territorial director for the MVB, who confirmed the lack of power given to certain individuals under Public Safety's chain of command.
"I can only recommend that people be hired," Olive said, "and I have nothing to do with financial allotments."
Olive added that requests must also go through VIPD's financial director and the deputy commissioner before they are considered for approval.
"This seriously undermines one’s ability to have a leadership position in this organization," responded Sen. Ronald Russell after hearing Olive’s comments.
Olive further shocked senators after stating to Sen. Liston Davis that he does oppose the long-term plan created by Commissioner Lewis for Public Safety, and does in fact support the establishment of an autonomous Motor Vehicle Bureau.
"The MVB has outgrown its place under the police department," Olive stated, "and we are no longer functioning efficiently … it’s time for something else to happen."
Olive added that policies for change have been in the works for several years and have received no immediate attention. "There are so many proposals that everything being stated is just redundant at this point," Olive said, "and since no action is being taken, I’m getting no support for the things needed to be done."
The only form of support Olive said he has received is from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, who echoed Olive's call for a separate agency, relative to U.S. standards for autonomous motor vehicle departments.
On the topic of additional funding, Olive discussed the contributions being made to the MVB through the Personalized License Plate Fund, a source created by the Legislature in order to actively supply funding to the MVB.
"Just today I saw on my computer that $6,700 had been taken from the fund in order to purchase [airline] tickets for the police department," Olive stated. "So you see, the money is being used for other things."
Sen. Donastorg also expressed concerns regarding the sum of $1 million, which had previously been allotted to the Motor Vehicle Bureau by the Legislature. "This fund has specifically been earmarked for the MVB and has not, as yet, been tapped into by the police department for resources."
Lewis defends plan for Public Safety Department
In response, Commissioner Lewis noted that these monies were not released by the Office of Management and Budget, and as a result, could not be accessed by the MVB.
He added that plane tickets were bought for Public Safety officials attending relevant meetings on St. Croix.
Lewis also sought to justify his long-term plan for Public Safety, which includes the implementation of new computer software to replace older systems that are keeping driving license records.
"I’m working on a lot of things," Lewis said, "and the creation of a stand-alone agency is not needed. The taxpayers are crying out for us not to spend any more of their money …. In the U.S., businesses are being consolidated in order for expenditures to be cut … are we really going to create another such expense?"
When asked by Sen. Davis if the plan could be submitted before the Legislature within the next few days, Lewis responded that it was impossible to do so until the governor had approved it. As a result, the committee voted to subpoena the plan so that it may appear before the senators more expeditiously.
Decision upon the bill itself was postponed until Lewis’ bill is reviewed by the Legislature.
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