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HomeNewsArchivesA Rebuttal to Ms. Langdon's Concerns

A Rebuttal to Ms. Langdon's Concerns

Dear Source:
I would like to follow-up on my article on "Re-establishing Our Ideals and Changing Our Lives". I appreciate Ms. Langdon's comments on the article and I can understand a certain amount of fear of the unknown in terms of massive changes in how our government is structured.
The idea is to have LESS government. That is not to say that anyone would want to eliminate services, quite the contrary–SERVICE is what we are striving for.
Having a local, legal and autonomous municipal government system would bring our fiscal realities in to a more clear focus. For example, if a road project was decided on for St Croix by the administration on St Thomas without input from locals (as has just occurred) the government would proceed thinking they were doing a "service" to the community. The reality is many of these projects have been funded, bids won and money paid and they were NOT well thought out because of lack of community input. If the same project were to be considered by a local government, then locals could attend the meetings, help resolve the issues before the engineering would start. In fact, the engineering would be BASED on the decisions of the citizens and not from some obscure committee who may or not have the same motivation local citizens have.
There would not be a "new layer of government'! Remember, if municipalities were a reality then the central government would have far fewer tasks or responsibilities than they have now. They would have far fewer territorial department heads, assistants and workers. The idea is to place the responsibility of local governance onto the municipality. We KNOW this can be done with far fewer people. Central government has more employees than they need even now and yet still complain about not having manpower enough to get even the most menial of tasks completed. Municipalities are run by the people because local citizens make-up the local government. They are elected by the citizens of the municipality and, because they are locals will be more prone to care more for their community. Most importantly, no one is going to elect or select anyone who does not have the credentials for the job. On these small islands, we know our neighbors. We know their strengths and weaknesses. If a neighbor was running for elected office, it's for sure their laundry (clean or dirty) will be out there for all to see.
I sure don't want some elected official from another island making decisions about my life but HEY! That's what is happening now! Bringing decision making back to the people is the only logical answer.
I live on tiny St John. We have had our share of problems lately, which is uncharacteristic in terms of the islands history. Had municipal government been in place, and the Police Department was under the auspices and control of a Mayor or City Council I guarantee that heads would roll! For example, if the Police Chief weren't doing his job, he or she would be fired! If officers who are hired by the municipality acted in a manner that was not in keeping with MUNICIPLAL laws, they would be gone. If the Public Works Department failed to do its job, another Director would be hired. It's all about LOCAL accountability. As it is now, we have no local authority to do anything about the actions of territorial hire's. We can't even suggest making changes because we have no power to do so. Sure, we can protest (and we should), we can complain and talk until we are blue in the face but without local, lawful power, as it is now, it means nothing to the central government.
As for funding such an endeavor, the answers here are ridiculously simple. We have local real estate taxes that could be collected by municipalities and kept there.
We know that the central government has proposed $749M for fiscal year 2007. We also know that there have been additional supplements (approximately $40M more) to get us out of the 2006 fiasco. Ok, that means we need about $800M to run the territory. That figure includes schools, police, fire, housing, public works, capital improvements, homeland security, licensing, planning, and a host of other services. You would assume that the 2007 budget was enough to fund every department, every activity and every initiative on every island fully. So–there is enough money out there–right? The government is taking in as much as it spends, or so it says. Even the present government has said that we have been so successful in collecting funds that they may even have surplus funds available for other projects. So, if the money is there, why not give it to local municipalities to distribute instead of the central government squandering it! We also know that a huge part of the income for the budget comes from federal coffers for schools, roads, police, fire, human services, community activities and a whole host of other projects that are either mandated by the feds or are designed to enhance the community. How much of that money actually gets to where it belongs? The central government makes decisions on who gets it when it rightfully should go to the agencies that initiated it to begin with-the locals. No, municipalities cannot be direct beneficiaries of grants from the federal government because it has to filter down through the territorial government. However, the territorial government will not need the money because they don't have any responsibility to spend it! All the people live in a municipality-no one "lives" at the territorial level, so only the municipality needs to have funds. Now, the territory certainly needs funds for mandated programs such as homeland security, National Guard and reserve, internal revenue, a central housing department, human services administration, a public works administration, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and perhaps a territorial police department. It can be noted that these "departments" and "administrations" are just that-administrators and not worker bees. The actual "work" is being done by municipalities. Since the territorial government has such limited duties, then they exist only to filter needed funds to municipalities to get that work done! It's not unlike a business. The "boss" collects so that the workers can keep going. Only that amount that is required to run a territorial government is taken and the rest goes to the municipality. Of course, municipalities can tax land, housing and may even choose to establish other necessary tariffs if it so chooses lawfully. The central government collects income and other taxes to cover the debt of running the territorial government. What is left over is shared by local governments.
The reality is municipalities may choose NOT to spend so much money thus reducing the overall burden on its citizens. It must be made clear that most capital expenditures are reimbursed to a great extent by federal government funding and then filtered to the agency(s) that need them. The municipality has the legal right to consider what is required to fund projects based on municipal budgets and request matching funds from the territorial government. The territorial government must take all requests from municipalities and ask the feds to fund them based on a formula. If there are insufficient funds for a project, then the municipality, not the territorial government, can either raise taxes or not consider the expenditure. Local control, Legal local control means we understand what is required locally and have not only the lawful right to make decisions about local people and their needs but we have the CONSTITUTIONAL right to exist!
Municipal Government can work. Let's make it a reality.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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