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HomeNewsArchivesSt. John Residents Pan Proposed Environmental-User Fee

St. John Residents Pan Proposed Environmental-User Fee

Nov. 19, 2007 — The V.I. Waste Management Authority's proposed environmental-user fee will break the back of St. John businesses and impose a hardship on the island's already overtaxed residents, numerous people said Monday at a public meeting on the fees.
"Business owners in Cruz Bay are terrified of the fee schedule," said St. John business owner Lonnie Willis.
The proposed fee is added when products arrive in the territory and vary by product.
Although businesses will pass along the environmental-user fee to their customers, that will in turn increase their gross-receipts tax, said Willis, one of about 30 people at the meeting held at the Legislature building. Businesses pay a 4-percent tax on their gross receipts — the amount of money businesses take in before expenses are deducted.
"People could be losing tens of thousands of dollars a month, and they still have to pay gross-receipts tax," Willis said. He also pointed out that much of what comes on to St. John goes home with tourists who buy it in the island's gift shops.
"Special consideration" can be given in the case of products going off island, but the business owner would have to prove that was the case, said WMA Director May Cornwall.
St. John businessman Don Porter said he was concerned about the logistics of how the authority would go about collecting the environmental-user fee.
"It's just another stop, another form, another layer of bureaucracy that doesn't make sense," he said.
The WMA plans to have its staff piggyback on the efforts of government workers who collect customs duties on St. John, Cornwall said. The authority hadn't devised a system to collect the fee on goods coming in through the U.S. Postal Service, she said.
"It's an honor system," Cornwall said. "We'll rely on people to make a conscious decision to pay."
The new fee will make the island a very expensive destination for tourists, said St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto. She mentioned the greatly increased property taxes residents may have to pay once property-revaluation issues are resolved, along with fees paid to the V.I. Port Authority to "traverse over concrete" at the Red Hook Marine Terminal to get on the barge.
St. John resident Judith Whitley, speaking about the high cost of living on St. John, said it cost her $46 at a St. John grocery store for the ingredients to make a blueberry pie for Thanksgiving.
St. John resident Iris Kern asked whether the WMA has a Plan B if the fee proposal doesn't get the required Public Services Commission approval before it can be implemented.
"I have not encountered a proposal that's received such a negative response," Kern said, referring to complaints about the plan made by the public at similar meetings held on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
There are other options, which could include a "hybrid" plan that would allow the WMA to use sources of funding other than the fees to fund its budget, Cornwall said. The money now comes from the General Fund, she said. There could be exemptions for lower-income people, she noted.
The environmental-user fee is projected to bring in $36 million a year, Cornwall said.
After Willis pointed out that many St. John residents would be willing to send aluminum cans for recycling without getting any money for their efforts, Cornwall said they should bag them up and leave that at the Public Works Department facility in Susannaberg for shipment by WMA to a St. Thomas recycler.
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