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Setting Up Municipal Government

Dear Source:
Assuming municipal government becomes a constitutional reality for the Virgin Islands, we have to look at how the transfer of power would occur and how long it would take to be put in place. First, we must establish how municipal government could be chosen by the people. Yes, the people.
Ideally, a decision would have to be made at the local level if the citizens wanted municipal or not. This would be know, by deciding if an entire island or portion of an island wanted municipal government. Just because the constitution allows it, it doesn't have to be "shoved in the faces" of people. The constitution would provide the means and methods as to how to form a municipality.
For example, let's say the citizens of the Christiansted area wanted to create a town government. They would gather together and form a committee of the electorate, decide on the borders of the town (if not already established), estimate the population and consider the economic ramifications of the action. A petition with the names of at least 20% of the citizens within the border would indicate that establishing a municipal government was what they wanted. Next, the decisions would be sent to the governor with proof of the signatures indicating they would like to form a municipality. The governor can then accept or reject the proposal and/or may make recommendations. If approved, the electorate of the area would then vote and a simple majority would prevail. The governor would foreword his approval and together, the governor and legislature would issue a town charter. This would make the new "Town of Christensted" a legal corporation within the territory of the Virgin Islands. It would then be up to the citizens of the new municipality to have an election of officers-a mayor and 5 town councilmen. The initial election would be non-partisan and town wide. Subsequent elections would be determined by establishing 5 wards, based on population with each ward having approximately the same number of citizens and represented by one councilman.
Now the hard part! What do we do now? The constitution would be worded to allow two important elements to every legally-chartered municipality. First, the ability to assess and collect property taxes within the town borders and which would remain in the town treasury. Second, the government would share revenues with the municipality based on a population formula to offset the cost of running the municipality. Per the constitution, each municipality would control everything within its borders to include, police, fire, public works, building inspections, zoning, human services, recreation, library, tax collection, traffic control, agriculture, etc. The municipality would have to be formed, through by-laws as to how these things could be accomplished. In effect, the police would be the Christensted Police and not the Virgin Islands police, or the Christensted Public Works Dept., etc. Jobs would not be lost because the people that formally were doing the work at the central government level would now work for the municipality and never lose any pay or retirement benefits. This is a huge departure from what we have now where the central government controlled all those functions. And what about infrastructure? The Virgin Islands central government must cede all property within the town borders to the town. All public buildings, equipment and personnel would now be controlled by the town. Certain buildings and personnel would remain to take care or central government business, like IRB, customs, or effectively, those duties which are controlled by the central government and not the town. How much time would this take? Perhaps 2 to 3 years would be needed to make the transition. Remember, the central government must also change the way it does business and as more and more areas become incorporated, the easier the task becomes. Once all areas are incorporated, the central government would have given up near total control of basic services. What if an area chooses not to incorporate? In that case, the central government would have to retain government operation in order to provide services to that non-chartered area. Or, a neighboring chartered town could provide the services on a fee basis where the central government would provide funding as if the area was within the chartered municipality.
Yes, municipal government would be a huge change and there will be some confusion during the transitional period but with strong local leaders and a willing central government, the change will ultimately be a better way of life for the people living within a town. Just think, just go down to town hall and have everything you need. No more insane central government regulations. The town could simplify everything. A municipal website could be set-up so you can get town information, pay bills, traffic tickets, etc on-line. You would have close contact daily with your representatives who you know personally. If you have a problem, discuss it over dinner or attend a monthly council meeting. If municipalities were a reality, the people of the town would be able to solve problems themselves.
If the constitutional delegates choose to, everything mentioned above could happen. If you feel strongly about controlling your own life, I suggest attending the constitutional hearing and make your wishes known. The delegates will listen.

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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