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V.I. Taxi Commission Hoping to Go Digital

With limited financial resources, the V.I. Taxicab Commission is hoping to become more effective and efficient at overseeing taxi services through automation, Executive Director Judith Wheatley told the Legislature Thursday during budget hearings.

"We are seeking to develop a viable automated system so that we may track all automobile for hire medallion owners, automobile for hire operators and registered automobiles for hire throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands," Wheatley said.

Getting a good email and file sharing system is also important, she told the Finance Committee. Currently, the commission operates on a paper-based system dating back to 1978, and what computers it has are donated and at the end of their useful lives, she said.

"It is imperative that the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission secures and preserves the hard copy documents of the ownership of all medallion owners through the establishment of a database for the benefit of medallion owners and their beneficiaries throughout the territory," Wheatley said.

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Wheatley was before the Senate Finance Committee to discuss Taxicab Commission’s annual budget. Although subject to the Legislative budget process, the semi-autonomous VITCC’s funding comes entirely from its own internal revenue sources, including license fees, bank liens, fees for an array of services and from the sale of taxi medallions.

Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s 2013 budget recommendation for VITCC is $633,000 – a $12,000, 1.8 percent decrease from 2012.

Wages and salaries account for $392,000 of that total. Fringe benefits including retirement, health and government contributions for Medicare and Social Security consume $154,000. The catch-all category "other services and charges" is budgeted at $56,000.

The V.I. Carnival Committee and St. John Festival Committee were also before the Senate Monday to discuss their budgets.

The Office of Management and Budget has recommended a Fiscal Year 2013 General Fund appropriation of $350,000 for the VICC – $150,000 or 30 percent less than the FY12 appropriation of $500,000. The VICC will also receive $300,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund, for a total appropriation of $650,000.

Carnival Committee Executive Director Caswil Callender told the Senate that the committee also expects to receive about $150,000 in corporate sponsorships; $95,000 in revenue from concessions; and $100,000 from ticket sales from the annual Queen Show, Calypso shows and other productions, bringing the total budget to just under $1 million.

Expenses are projected at $945,000, with $170,000 for entertainment; $135,000 for professional services; $110,000 in salaries; $85,000 for prizes and trophies; $45,000 for fireworks and an array of smaller expenses, Callender and other members of the Committee testified.

The St. John Festival and Cultural Organization’s FY13 General Fund budget recommendation is $156,000 from the General Fund and $75,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, for a total of $231,000 – a $19,000 reduction from 2012 levels.

The organization, which puts on the annual St. John Festival, is requesting $400,000, however – 73 percent more than what is budgeted. The request includes an extra $135,000 to buy two large tents, artificial grass and five 40-foot cargo containers."The tents will be utilized to cover a bandstand and patrons in the event of inclement weather," said Festival Organization President Leona Smith.

Bad weather has created problems several times over the past five years, Smith said. The containers will be used to store all the materials. The artificial grass would cover the field where the stage is erected, she said.

Entertainment costs are the largest component of the St. John Festival Organization budget, at $100,000. Promotion and advertising comes in second at $75,000. Travel and professional services both come in at projected costs of $50,0o0, and an array of other charges round out the total.

No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing.

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