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Future of St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund Still Uncertain

Sept. 20, 2006 — While a bill to suspend funding for the St. Croix Capital Improvement fund sailed through the Finance and Rules committees last week, senators voted to table the bill during Wednesday's full legislative session following fierce opposition from Sens. Usie R. Richards and Norman Jn Baptiste.
Both senators have said the money takes away "critical funding for projects" which may be coming online for St. Croix in the future.
According to local law, $2 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund (consisting of the territory's rum revenues), is supposed to be deposited annually into the fund. However, according to Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, the Legislature has consistently acted upon recommendations made by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to suspend the contribution.
During a recent Finance Committee meeting, Sen. Louis P. Hill, the committee's chair, said it is this practice which prompted majority senators to once again suspend the fund's contribution, since many capital projects for St. Croix have been "funded through the Public Finance Authority or the General Fund."
During Wednesday's session, Hill added that the fiscal year 2007 executive budget earmarks "lots of money" for capital improvements on St. Croix — including $5 million for the development of the new Cardiac Center at the Juan F. Luis Hospital.
Notwithstanding these appropriations (which were recently added to the miscellaneous section of the budget), Richards said that more money would be needed in the future for additional projects. "Obviously things need to be done on St Croix," he added.
While majority senators initially said they were still in favor of the bill to cut the funding, they also later unanimously approved an amendment to restore funding from another source, essentially rendering the entire bill null and void.
Proposed by Senate President Lorraine L. Berry, the amendment reduces another General Fund contribution included in the budget by $2 million and places that money in the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for future use.
After that amendment was approved, senators then voted — as Richards had suggested during a Finance Committee meeting held last week — to table the bill indefinitely.
Senators also debated another budget bill appropriating approximately $28.3 million from the General Fund to the Waste Management Authority to cover operating expenses. Many senators during the session said they were dissatisfied with WMA's service over the past year and cited that the territory was still "experiencing a lot of sewage problems."
While Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg suggested that WMA officials be brought in to "answer the concerns" raised by senators and members of the community, Sen. Craig W. Barshinger proposed that the authority be given "one more year" to deal with various waste issues.
"After that year, we're going to have to look at whether were going to restructure the agency again," he added.
Despite the opposition, senators voted to approve the authority's funding, along with bills:
— amending the V.I. Code relating to lapse of appropriated funds;
–amending the V.I. Code as it relates to the molasses subsidy;
— appropriating $450,000 from the Land Bank Fund to the Department of Public Works for the implementation of road hazard mitigation measures at Hull Bay road, St. Thomas and for other related purposes;
–honoring and commending Esonica Viera, "Ms. Hal Jackson's Virgin Islands and International Talented Teen of 2005-2006" for her outstanding performance and representing the Virgin Islands well in these competitions;
–honoring and commending Beacon Schools of the Virgin Islands in commemoration of its 10th anniversary; and
–honoring and commending the St. Croix Heritage Dancers Inc., on their 25th Anniversary, for preserving and promoting the territory's heritage, culture and dances.
The bills will be sent to Gov. Turnbull for final approval.
All senators were present during Wednesday's session.
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