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Young People Need Recreation Programs, Senators Say

July 24, 2008 — The territory's parks and recreational facilities should be in better condition by next year, but in the meantime Housing, Parks and Recreation (HPR) needs a bigger budget to sponsor programs for youth, senators said Thursday during the second round of budget hearings.
Though the department's budget grows minimally each year, there is still no money for recreational programs, because most of HPR's recommended General Fund appropriation goes toward personnel costs, according to the department's commissioner, St. Claire N. Williams. For fiscal year 2009, HPR's budget includes some $8.9 million from the General Fund — $7.5 million of which will be put toward personnel services and associated fringe benefits, he explained.
About $1.5 million will go to operating expenses, including $1.2 million for utilities, $200,000 for supplies and $150,000 for other services and charges. Another $50,000 expected from the federal government is earmarked for upgrades to local parks and recreation facilities, Williams said.
Most recently, the Legislature appropriated $3 million to upgrade facilities in both districts, but only $1 million has been allotted to date, he said. To spend the money efficiently, HPR has come up with an action plan and made a priority of $900,000 worth of repairs to various facilities around the territory.
Meanwhile, gate collections at the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas — the department serves as the promoter — goes directly back to fund improvements at the track, along with sponsorships for races and racing purses, Williams said.
"I don't have any wiggle room at all," he said. "And since there's no money really budgeted for programs, in the past we have relied on appropriations in the miscellaneous section of the budget — about $75,000 for each district — to keep those things progressing."
Senators lamented the loss of funds for youth programs, saying that at least $500,000 for each district should be included in the budget annually.
"We really need to buff up this budget, because Parks and Recreation activities are an important part of a youth's upbringing in the territory," said Finance Committee chairman Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson. "The absence of any money for programs is really troubling to me."
The budget does take into account, however, the creation of a new Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, earmarking funds for two beautification coordinators, two park rangers and four general maintenance workers. The position of HPR deputy commissioner has been eliminated and replaced with two positions: a director of Sports, Parks and Recreation, along with a director of parks and facilities maintenance.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. has already submitted a bill to transform HPR into the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, but the Senate has not yet acted on it.
In addition to discussing the department's goals for FY 2009, Williams said Thursday that HPR is also working on a partnership with the Department of Tourism to market the territory for national and international sports events.
Present during Thursday's meeting were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Nelson and Ronald E. Russell.
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