The Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Commission has confirmed that it has spent or committed about $625,000 of the $1.25 million allocated to it by the U.S. and territorial governments.
The figures provided to the Source by the commission answered some of the questions that have been raised in the wake of the celebration of the transfer of the territory to the United States in 19017.
Virgin Islanders were outraged this spring when it was learned that possibly 11 members of the Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Commission were going on what appeared to be a junket to Denmark at a cost of $5,000 per person.
In late May, Sens. Tregenza Roach and Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, two members of the 32nd Legislature’s Minority Caucus, proposed dismantling the Commission and using any of its remaining uncommitted funds to support youth programs and the territory’s public hospitals. That bill has gone nowhere, nor have many of the questions raised by Roach in a June 22 hearing before Committee on Workforce Development, Consumer Affairs, and Culture been answered.
Roach told the Source Thursday, “I am not satisfied at all with the response. I haven’t received anything personally or through the committee chair.”
He has several concerns – two are financial (How can the commission account for the monies it has spent so far and how is it proposing to spend the rest of its money?) and one is about structure. Sen. Myron Jackson is a member of the Commission as well as chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the Commission.
“I see it as a conflict,” Roach said about Jackson’s positions.
The Centennial Commission was created to mark this year’s 100th anniversary of the transfer of the territory to the U.S. from Denmark.
Roach hopes to see a draft of his bill completed before the end of the month, adding that he has seen growing support for the measure in the Senate.
He said he also understands why some things are moving slow in Senate. “We are consumed by this Rodriguez thing,” he said. (Kevin Rodriguez was elected to the Senate last year, but was not seated because of controversy over his residency. On Friday Janelle Sarauw was sworn in to the vacant seat. Sarauw had challenged Rodriquez in the November general election and in court, and was certified as the winner of the April special election to fill the seat.)
The Source requested budget and other information from the Centennial Commission on Tuesday. James O’Bryan, the assistant executive director of the commission, replied that day saying he would research the questions. The Source talked to Commission members Jackson and Colette Monroe during the week. Neither of them wanted to comment on specifics of the budget but were helpful in moving the questions forward. The answers came from O’Bryan on Thursday. The questions were broken down into two area – events and budget.
In the events area O’Bryan said $7,500 was given to all festival committees; $16,000 was the cost of the Carambola Gala; the cost of St. Thomas legislative and centennial events was $78,000; $2,500 was given to the Christiansted Boat Parade Committee for 4th of July activities; $2,500 was given to St. Croix History and Culture and Tradition Inc. for Emancipation Day; and $7,500 has been given to the St. Croix Archaeological Society for hosting the International Association for the Caribbean Archeology July 24 through July 29.
As for the budget, O’Bryan said $500,000 had been awarded to the Commission by the U.S. Department of Interior and $750,000 this fiscal year came from the Virgin Island’s government general fund. He released a document dated last month that shows about $625,000 already spent or committed.
O’Bryan also said that $91,000 had been collected so far from the sale of the centennial license plates. The commission has also collected more than $30,000 in the sale of commemorative items and for admission to events.