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Labor Day Horse Races in Funding Jeopardy

Aug. 28, 2006–Races traditionally held on St. Croix during the upcoming Labor Day weekend may be canceled if the St. Croix Horse Racing Commission does not receive more funding from the local government to cover various operational costs–including employee salaries and insurance.
At a recent Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs meeting held on St. Croix, the racing commission's treasurer, Norman Cuencas, said the organization currently has approximately $800 left in its account – an amount meant to cover costs associated with the Labor Day Race and another event scheduled for Sept. 23.
"It costs about $1,800 to run each race," Cuencas said. "And right now, we desperately need some help, because we're running the commission on a shoestring budget."
In response to questions from senators about the commission's lack of funding, Cuencas said that revenues collected during race days are deposited into the Horse Racing Improvement Fund, administered by the Department of Finance and regulated by Housing, Parks and Recreation.
He said that while the funds collected from each district are supposed to be placed in different fund accounts, the money has instead been commingled–allowing the St. Thomas Horseracing Commission to have access to revenues generated by its St. Croix counterpart.
"Because of this system, we often don't know how much is in the fund – or what the money has been spent on," Cuencas said.
Betty Wilson, the commission's vice-president, said that in order to deal with the issue, commission officials have spent a lot of time trying to work with Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson.
"It's always a struggle," she said. "Our annual budget appropriation, for example, is channeled through Housing, Parks and Recreation, but the money is only disbursed to us when they see fit."
She added that lack of funding given to the commission demonstrates that the territory is not serious about having live horseraces. "Why have something like this in place if you're not going to fund it?" Wilson asked.
Both Wilson and Wayne Biggs, the commission's chairman, said approximately $144,805 is needed in order to carry the organization through the next year.
No one from the St. Thomas Horse Racing Commission attended the meeting, even though the commission's chairwoman, Norma Pickard-Samuel, was invited to testify.
Present during the meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill and Ronald E. Russell.
Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion and Celestino A. White Sr. were absent.

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