Gov. Kenneth Mapp sent several proposed bills to the Legislature this week that would increase hotel occupancy tax, affecting government borrowing, and authorize buying ambulances, among other priorities, according to Government House.
Hotel Tax Increase
One bill would increase the Hotel Room Occupancy Tax and the Time-Share Estate (occupancy) Tax from 10 percent to 12 percent, starting next year, using the extra funding for the development and promotion of sports tourism; to provide funding for interscholastic competition of public high schools athletes on St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; to provide funding for recreation and sports activities by the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation; and to increase the amount of funds to promote the U.S. Virgin Islands as a vacation destination.
It would also expand the Agriculture Revolving Fund.
“By expanding the use of the Agriculture Revolving Fund and providing at least $1 million each year from the increased rate of the hotel occupancy and the time-share estate tax is how my administration is seeking your support to jump start the agriculture industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Mapp said.
“This funding will support a soon-to-be-created farmers’ cooperative to grow and provide fresh fruits, vegetables, seasonings and herbs for our school lunch program,” the governor said. “It will provide our farmers with real support through the Department of Agriculture.”
“These funds will be used to acquire equipment, provide land preparation, irrigation, green or organic control of pestilence, seedlings, crop management and the handling and storage of produce,” he continued. “Given our drought conditions, now more than ever is the right time to make our commitment to agriculture real,” Mapp said.
Bank Collateral Bill
Mapp also sent a bill to authorize banking and depository institutions to use irrevocable letters of credit issued by the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York as collateral for local government deposits held by such banking and depository institutions. The federal home loan banks are U.S. sponsored banks that lend to financial institutions.
Currently the law provides for a narrow selection of securities that a bank or depository may pledge as satisfactory collateral to secure our government funds, Mapp said in a statement Friday. The securities issued and secured by the Federal Housing Authority are scarce, inflexible, inherently expensive, operationally inefficient and problematic from a risk management perspective, according to Government House. There are also higher interest rates available on other instruments than the small selection allowed in the law.
Mapp said he recently met with representatives from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, a quasi-federal agency to discuss the benefits of using an irrevocable municipal letter of credit, issued by the Federal Home Loan Bank that carries a AAA+ rating.
Ambulances and Public Works Projects Funding
Another bill would increase the spending and scope of a 2012 bond bill at $28 million. Mapp is asking the Legislature for authorization to purchase ambulances, coroners’ vehicles, and police, fire and emergency services equipment as well as what Government House described as "ceremonial vehicles for the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor."
“Having adequate vehicles and equipment for our first responders and law enforcement agencies in the territory is paramount to protecting the safety and welfare of our residents and visitors,” Mapp said in his transmittal letter to Senate President Neville James. “For many years our first responders have valiantly done their duty with less than standard vehicles and equipment,” Mapp said.
Regarding the ceremonial vehicles, Mapp said the governor’s official vehicles were purchased back in 2005, "are in constant need of repair and are an embarrassment to the territory.”
“During my inauguration on Jan. 5, my official vehicle collapsed at Emancipation Garden and I had to be transported to the next inaugural event via police transport. I suppose this was symbolic of the state of the government I was inheriting,” Mapp said in a statement from Government House. “Currently the lieutenant governor travels via police vehicles because he has no functioning official vehicle,” Mapp said.
Funding is also set aside for the Bureau of Corrections to build and improve security systems at its facilities. Corrections needs to upgrade its transportation fleet and to improve and install security and video surveillance systems the Golden Grove Correctional facility, according to Government House.
Horace Clark Ballpark
Finally Mapp submitted a bill to fund the repairs to the Horace Clark ballpark on the west end of St. Croix. “This west end park has served as a place for the community to play softball and baseball with their families and friends. With the Paul E. Joseph Stadium and Terrence Martin ballpark facilities under demolition and reconstruction, children and adults are in need of facilities in the town of Frederiksted,” Mapp said.
“The commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation has completed an assessment of the ballpark and determined that there is a need to demolish and renovate certain areas of the park and the appropriation requested will accomplish this task," Mapp said, thanking Sen. Kurt Vialet for making the recommendation.