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Hearing Sheds Little Light on Plans for Veterans Museum

July 1, 2008 — Plans for a veterans museum and center on St. Croix remain on hold for now, and Director of Veterans' Affairs Morris D. Moorehead was vague about the prospects and status of the project during budget hearings Tuesday.
(See "Veterans Museum On Hold Until V.I. Government Commits Land.")
"Do you anticipate this museum is going to happen?" Sen. Louis P. Hill asked Moorehead.
"Yes, it may happen," Moorehead replied after a long silence.
"You are not sure?" Hill asked.
"Yes, senator, it may happen," Moorehead said.
"The museum is a good thing," Hill said. "Many people want it. But like some things in government, it just doesn't seem to be happening. So I want to understand what the impediments are."
Moorehead agreed it's a good thing, but expressed concerned about the scale of the project.
"The medical center, that is the one I have the most questions about," he said. "But the museum should happen."
Hill asked what role the Senate could play in helping things along, to which Moorehead replied the Senate needs to approve the lease for the land on which the center will sit.
"Where is the lease?" Hill asked.
"It is with legal counsel," Moorehead said.
"What counsel, who?" Hill asked.
"The governor's legal counsel."
Later, when the hearing was over, Moorehead said his office had to decide what to do with the lease, because "the Veterans' Memorial Complex is asking for a 90-year lease, and the government doesn't give leases that long," leaving it unclear who had the lease and what was being done with it.
Moorehead also said there are no firm agreements on who will run the memorial center and with what funds, making it difficult to move forward.
Moorehead was at the Finance Committee hearing in Frederiksted to present his office's 2009 general fund budget request of $414,347 in a brief, sparsely attended budget hearing. His office, one of the smallest in the government, has a total of six employees, including Moorehead, and is placed within the Office of the Governor. It has a mandate to compile data on veterans, aid in their educational pursuits, assist with employment and job referrals, and provide other benefits, including free ambulance transportation and free burial plot and death benefits. It acts as a local supplement to the actions of the federal Veterans Administration.
In addition to money from the general fund, the Veterans' Affairs Office has $200,000 at its disposal from the miscellaneous section of the budget, which is available until expended for veterans' burial and death benefits. It also receives dedicated money from the V.I. Lottery and from the auction of taxi-driver medallions. This year it received $70,426 from the lottery and $19,364 from taxi medallions for an additional $89,789, giving the office $704,136 at its disposal.
The hearing was informational and no action was taken, but the senators expressed support for veterans and for the office's budget. Afterwards, the committee voted to approve two federal grant applications. One was for $166,000 for the St. Croix Women's Coalition from the U.S. Department of Justice. The other was for $65,000 for the New Image Foundation to promote small business. Of the total, $50,000 would come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $15,000 from the University if the Virgin Islands' Small Business Development Center.
Voting for the grants were Weber, Sens. Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Terrence "Positive" Nelson. Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Neville James were absent.
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