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Senate Sounds Off on Governor's Requested Pay Raise

Dec. 15, 2005 – While five nominations to boards and commissions were the issue at hand during Thursday morning's Senate session, many of the 15 senators at the full session used their five minutes to weigh in on Gov. Charles Turnbull's request to raise his salary and that of Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards.
The governor wants a $55,000 raise, bringing his annual salary to $135,000. He's proposed that Richards get a $45,000 raise to $120,000 a year.
The governor said the salaries were last increased 16 years ago.
In his request letter to Sen. President Lorraine Berry, Turnbull cited an increase in the cost of living and the fact that he and Richards earn less than many government workers under them.
"One hundred thirty-five thousand is out of the question," Sen. Neville James said.
Like James, several senators said they had issues with the amount, but not the fact that the governor and lieutenant governor need raises.
A few said that the government needs to address retroactive payments owed to union workers as well as the fact that some government employees earn well below $20,000 a year.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said he had a bill that increased the minimum pay for government workers to $20,000. According to Donastorg, the bill is currently tabled in committee.
He questioned whether the bill was derailed because he was the sponsor or because others were looking out for their own interests.
Donastorg said that the territory's cost of living has gone up 28 percent in the past year.
Sen. Roosevelt David asked why the government couldn't pay its chief executives what they deserve. He said often the fact that government employees are local Virgin Islanders makes people think they shouldn't be paid more.
"We need to move away from that kind of thinking," he said.
All 15 senators approved the nominees to boards and commissions. They are former tax assessor Verne Callwood to the Board of Tax Review, Marvin Pickering to the Government Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees, J. Brion Morrisette to the V.I. Waste Management Authority, and June A. Adams and Beverly Chongasing to the St. Thomas/St. John Hospitals and Health Facilities Governing Board.
With no discussion, all senators, except David and Sen. Louis P. Hill, agreed to override Turnbull's early December veto of a bill to loan money to the University of the Virgin Islands to start up its planned technical park.
The money will come from a $10 million set-aside through the Public Finance Authority to help fund the Carifest theme park — in the works since 1992 — which is planned for development near the Havensight cruise ship docks.
David said he had no plans to override the governor's veto of a bill that allowed rezoning and a variance for Grande Bay Resort in Cruz Bay, St. John.
Turnbull has said he vetoed the measure because it was the center of controversy.
David said the developer, Bay Isle Associates, has withdrawn its application for a rezoning and variance.
Grande Bay wanted rezoning from W-1 (waterfront) to R-4 (residential medium density), to make two parcels totaling a half acre conform with adjacent property owned by the developers.
At an Aug. 29 hearing, Bay Isle partner Kelly Frye said they need to have the same zoning designation on the parcels because they can't put a reception building on the property line when the adjacent parcels have different zoning designations. The company also wanted to build 14 condominium units to add to the existing 48 already permitted.
Bay Isle wanted the variance on the rezoned parcels to allow the company to open a restaurant and sundry shop.
Sens. Celestino White and Donastorg both tried unsuccessfully to convince their colleagues to take up a zoning variance bill that would allow video gambling machines at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack on St. Croix. The racetrack's management company, Traxo, said it needs the measure to keep the racetrack open.
The bill remains in the Senate's Rules and Judiciary Committee, which held it Tuesday when it took up the measure because it was incomplete.
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