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SENATORS REJECT 'NO MONEY' PUBLIC WORKS EXCUSE

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No good news came out of a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on St. Thomas Thursday to look into Public Works Department problems.
Declaring the Public Works Department in crisis, Sen. Gregory Bennerson, committee chair, said, "This is why we are conducting meetings on all three islands," according to the V.I. Independent.
The meeting was called specifically to hear testimony from Commissioner Harold W. Thompson Jr., who, grilled by committee members, admitted that in many ways the department is in a bad way, but attributed the situation "to lack of adequate funding." He said Public Works had lost 63 employees in the last year, and its operating budget is down 17 percent from the last fiscal year.
The lawmakers were not satisfied. Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus asked if it was a "question of finances, or simply a lack of urgency getting programs in place." Petrus said, according to the Independent, "We are halfway through the fiscal year, and yet you have no fees in place. . . you have a method to collect funds, and you haven't implemented it yet."
He said the continual cry for more funds seemed to him to be "an excuse, when the real problem may be the inability to do these things."
Thompson said an analysis of the Senate post auditor's recommendations regarding Public Works "indicated that the Legislature eliminated funding for 35 temporary positions in the amount of $601,000, reduced funding for classified positions by $54,000, and increased funding for unclassified positions by $98,000."
Sen. Lorraine Berry suggested he take a close look at all department vacancies and determine which positions really need to be filled.
Much discussion centered on the deteriorated state of St. Thomas roads. Funding of $1.35 million recently appropriated for repairs on St. Thomas and Water Island has been divided into three portions, according to the newpaper, with 50 percent going for patching and overlay. "We have already begun patching," Thompson said.
Bennerson said he was "very disappointed, near the point of anger" at the information presented by the commissioner. He termed the administration's accomplishments "pathetic."
The committee was to meet again Friday afternoon on St. Croix to take further testimony.

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