Sept. 6, 2006 — A variety of completely unrelated issues consumed the Public Finance Authority board meeting on Wednesday — beginning with the board's approval of a $125,000 salary for Interim PFA Director Kent Bernier Sr. during a two-hour executive session held at the beginning of the meeting.
Bernier, who became the authority's interim director in March, will serve until Dec. 31, board members said.
During the executive session, the board also voted to more closely monitor the activities of Washington law firm Winston and Strawn — which represents and lobbies for the V.I. government in a variety of matters — and its subcontractors. According to Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills, PFA officials recently recognized that the "firm's activities had exceeded its budget."
"We just want to make sure we're more diligent in monitoring and tracking these activities in the future," Mills said after the meeting.
Board members also spent much time discussing whether the PFA should continue to both finance and manage certain capital improvement projects – including $5.5 million worth of renovations to the old Educational building in Christiansted.
The building, once fixed, will house the offices of the lieutenant governor. "Right now, the governor and lieutenant governor are working out of the same facility," Bernier said. "So there is a need to get a separate facility for the lieutenant governor."
Bernier's recommendation, which would allow the PFA to put the project out to bid instead of sending it though the Department of Property and Procurement, was opposed by several board members, including Mills and Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull.
While Bernier explained there was a need to expedite the project – which he called a "matter of Homeland Security" – Mills and Bernice Turnbull insisted that going through Property and Procurement was still the "best way to go."
"The PFA got involved with the Frederiksted Revitalization project, and I don't know how well we did with that," Bernice Turnbull said, adding that she is not opposed to the project, but rather to the process itself.
"The PFA serves as a financing agency," she said. "We should stick to that."
Attorney James Hindels, PFA legal counsel, echoed Turnbull's statements and tried to discourage board members from acting on Bernier's recommendation. "The PFA is the financing arm of the V.I.," he said. "Taking on other duties far exceeds the staffing and other capabilities needed to expedite the procurement process."
While Hindels explained that the PFA, through a Memorandum of Understanding with Property and Procurement, is authorized to handle the procurement process for certain capital improvement projects, he encouraged the board not to back "an extension" of the powers granted to the PFA in the V.I. Code.
"It's a perception issue," added board member Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. "If projects don't go through Property and Procurement, then the public wonders what's going on."
Despite the opposition, however, a motion made by Bernice Turnbull to send the project through Property and Procurement was rejected by the board after it failed to gain a second.
Instead, a motion made by Mills to allow the PFA to move ahead with the project, on the condition that the authority "will play close attention to all the rules of the procurement process," was approved. Both Mills and Gov. Turnbull voted in favor of the motion, while Bernice Turnbull voted against.
Board members Paul Arnold and Roy D. Jackson were absent during Wednesday's meeting.
Bernice Turnbull was also opposed to another recommendation made by Bernier to use proceeds garnered from the 1994 Series bond issue to fund $850,000 worth of last-minute repairs to the King's Alley Hotel on St. Croix.
At a board meeting in June, Bernier said the extra money would go toward purchasing light fixtures, metal screens, ceiling panels, plumbing fixtures and gas tanks for the hotel, among other things. At the time, however, he did not specify where the money would be coming from.
During Wednesday's meeting, Bernice Turnbull, along with other board members, opposed using the 1994 bond proceeds as the funding source for the completion of the project. Thus, a motion made to approve Bernier's recommendation failed, allowing the repairs to remain unfunded.
In other news, the board also approved the authority's administrative budget for fiscal year 2007, which Bernier said totals $4.7 million — $1 million more than what was discussed during a recent Senate meeting.
A supplemental budget of $2.7 million for FY 2006 was also approved by the board Wednesday. Bernier said the extra money is needed to pay off various operational expenses, along with administrative costs. The supplemental budget will be funded through PFA revenues, including commissions and administrative fees garnered from the issuance of private activity bonds to companies such as Hovensa.
The board additionally voted to reprogram $750,000 earmarked for the Department of Human Services. Bernier said the money, which was slated to go toward the Queen Louise Home for the Aged on St. Thomas, will now be used to purchase the Masaac Nursing Facility.
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