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Senators Press Public Works to Fix St. Croix Roads

Aug. 17, 2005 – George Phillips, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Wednesday pushed senators to give him a lump-sum budget. And St. Croix senators pushed back, saying that something had to be done to St. Croix roads, where brush has grown right up to the pavement's edge.
Phillips covered a lot of ground in his request to the Finance Committee for a $17.6 million appropriation from the V.I. General Fund. But the senators kept coming back to the roads, which Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, chairman of the committee, termed dangerous. Phillips then would turn the conversation to what he saw as his need for the flexibility that a lump-sum budget would give him.
He said he noted, when he became acting commissioner, the disparity between the number of road crews maintaining roads on St. Thomas (15) to those maintaining roads on St. Croix (4). He said he wanted to do something about that disparity, but because he did not have a lump-sum budget, he could not make the changes.
Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville and Neville James also pushed for DPW to do something about the roads. Figueroa-Serville said he was willing to approve a budget with an increased request for funds to take care of St. Croix roads. James said, "It is ridiculous, the shape the roads are in."
As for the lump-sum budget, Sens. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Figueroa-Serville, and Ronald Russell all expressed opposition to it. Russell said, "It just doesn't make sense to me." Baptiste said, "We will consider your request and do what is prudent."
The money DPW receives from the General Fund is just over 50 percent of its annual budget. The department gets $16.4 million in federal funds, $300,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, and $225,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement fund.
Phillips said that DPW employs 141 workers, has 36 vacant positions and is proposing to create and fill 29 other positions.
Phillips said the mission of the department was to "provide timely and efficient transportation services; to design, construct and maintain a network of public highways and roads; to plan, construct and repair government buildings; and to provide the management and maintenance of public burial sites and ceremonies."
The part about transportation services drew a lot of questions from senators. Nelson wanted to know what DPW was doing about attracting a year-round ferry service to the islands. He said, "This seasonal ferry service just does not work."
Aloy Nielsen, DPW's deputy commissioner, said that the department had heard that the transportation bill signed recently would allow the Virgin Islands to seek federal funds for ferry services.
Nelson said he had heard that there was $5 million already available to help subsidize ferry services. Phillips said maybe that was misinformation. Nelson said, "No, that is not misinformation. Do not say it is."
Nelson also questioned why there were no printed schedules for VITRAN bus service. Verne Callwood, deputy commissioner for transportation, said a schedule could not be maintained with any consistency on St. Croix's six routes, given that only four busses are available and the need for regular maintenance.
Phillips said that St. Croix would soon have two more busses added to the fleet. However, Callwood said that St. Croix needed 15 busses before the six routes could be serviced with regularity.
Nelson responded that it could be years before the system reached the point where even a schedule could be printed. Phillips said that the department was initiating an aggressive policy of bus purchases.
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