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Senate Synopsis: Aug. 1–5

Aug. 7, 2005 – Sen. Neville James last week kept the heat on federal and local officials at V.I. housing projects concerning conditions favorable to the mosquito that spreads dengue fever.
There has been quibbling whether the numbers of dengue cases constitute an epidemic, but that should not matter as two young people already have died this year in the Virgin Islands from the disease, many more have gotten very sick from it (at least 36 confirmed cases), and, probably most discouraging, is that more are being exposed to a disease that becomes more deadly with each exposure.
James sent letters to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Receiver Jose Basque-Perez, the V.I. Housing Authority and acting Department of Public Works Commissioner George Phillips. James was one of the senators who visited the Williams Delight housing community the previous week. This week he had staff members gathering more information.
In the letters he wrote about the tires there that were found to be a breeding ground for the deadly mosquito. He also described the general condition of the community. He wrote, "I noted the lack of general maintenance and upkeep in the Williams Delight community. The present conditions are deplorable at best. Complaints from the residents include the untimely repairs in the homes, tree trimming around community homes and touching electrical power lines."
He mentioned the uncut vacant lots causing blocked waterways and further causing flooding and stagnant water, which could bring about more mosquito breeding.
Although no public reply was made by Phillips, Basque-Perez, a federal official overseeing the V.I. Housing Authority, did reply Thursday. He said many measures were being taken. These include:
— May 30, All vacant units in Aureo Diaz Heights were secured and screens were installed in all residents units in Building 16;
— June 7, A letter was sent to Darlene Carty, commissioner of the Department of Health, requesting that an enforcement officer attend the monthly resident meetings to provide information to the residents on dengue and how to protect themselves;
— June 22, VIHA maintenance, with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture, drained overflowing cisterns to prevent standing water in the Williams Delight community;
— July 5–18, All open trenches and ditches in the Williams Delight community were backfilled and floating larvicide briquettes were placed in the large pond on Plot 416, VIHA is also backfilling all other holes and depressions in all communities;
— July 6, A notice was sent to residents advising them of the symptoms of dengue and requesting they remove and empty containers where water settled.
So, we can note that some things do get done by the V.I. government. That might not be too clear as one watches what goes on in Senate chambers as the senators have now gone through three weeks of budget hearing. It all starts to run together. An observer could not be faulted for watching a commissioner come in and perhaps thinking to themselves, "Hasn't she already been here asking for more money and been told she could not have it?"
Actually repetitiveness reached a high when representatives from GERS made their budget plea. (See "GERS Officials Predict Ruins Instead of Retirement".)
Pretty much everything the officials said had been said earlier last month when the senate conducted hearings on possible reform of GERS (See "Hearing Reaches No Consensus on Fixing GERS".)
And speaking of repetitiveness, why does every senator, every time he starts to speak, have to say hello to everyone in the Virgin Islands? These cute little monologues might be nice if there were no urgent matters to attend to, but shouldn't the senators lay off the campaigning just for a while and see if they can actually do something to help create an Education Department that educates children and a Police Department that catches criminals?
Hearings started in earnest on Tuesday, and it was not long before senators were discussing a No Right Turn sign in Frenchtown. This is no doubt a very important issue to residents of Frenchtown, but for those residents on other islands tired of hearing about it, the news from Phillips was not good. The acting director of public works said the issue concerning the sign had returned to square one. (See "DPW Says Frenchtown Is Back to Square One".)
Also discussed was how the transfer of power and personnel from DPW to the Waste Management Authority was going. (See "Senators Have Questions About Double Dipping, Tires".)
The biggest news at Wednesday's hearing was the absence of Kenneth Blake, chairman of the V.I. Carnival Committee.
He made the argument in a letter that the Carnival Committee is independent of the government, and so does not have to come before the Finance Committee.
However, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg replied that the Carnival Committee owes back taxes and also gets government funds. He said, "If we're giving them money to operate, then they have a duty to appear before us to defend their budget. Not coming in for these hearings is an affront to the authority of the Senate."
Since the lowliest nonprofit receiving a $500 grant from the government has to explain to the government how it is using that money, it appears Donastorg's argument makes more sense. If Blake wants true autonomy, all he has to do is fund the carnival without government subsidies.(See "Carnival Committee Chairman Defies Senate Committee".)
The toughest hearing before the Finance Committee this week was probably the appearance by Education Commissioner Noreen Michael on Thursday.
The Education Department has run into trouble recently because of poor financial management and school repairs not being done in a timely fashion.
"You're going to be punished for not performing," Sen. Louis P. Hill said.
But that is easier said than done. No one wants to cut funds that can ultimately help the youths of the Virgin Islands, but no one also wants to give funds to a department where the money seems to fall into a black hole.
This must be why those senators are paid those big salaries — so they can figure out what to do about the Education Department.
We were going to compliment the Legislature on how well they are keeping their Web site updated, but then, alas, this weekend we find the calendar two weeks behind. (See the Senate Web site.)

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