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CCC, PSC MAKE CASES FOR BUDGET REQUESTS

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July 11, 2001 – The Senate Finance Committee began budget hearings Tuesday with the Casino Control Commission and the Public Services Commission stating the cases for their respective spending needs.
Eileen Petersen, chairwoman of the Casino Commission, defended the agency’s budget request of $1.45 million for fiscal year 2001-02. That sum, she said, would allow the commission that regulates gambling on St. Croix to hire sorely needed personnel. Petersen said that despite an increasing workload, the commission has only two staff people, an executive director and a secretary. Additionally, there are only two casino inspectors, the bare minimum needed to meet the mandates of the V.I. Casino Control Act. The act calls for an inspector to be on duty at all times that a casino is open for business.
St. Croix's only casino now is the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino. But the hours needed to keep an inspector at that one casino at all times, said Shawna Richards, the commission’s executive director, is already taking a toll on the employees and their families.
"Casino inspectors work around the clock as required by law," Richards said, noting that in addition to the casino inspectors, the commission needs to hire an audit inspector, legal counsel and a secretary. "Funding for these positions is critical."
Petersen said it was difficult for the commission to obtain the funding it was allocated for fiscal year 2000-01.
"We had no idea from day to day whether we had $1 to spend or $10 to spend," she said. "We have had a very difficult time trying to figure out what we’re operating with."
In other committee action, PSC Executive Director Keithley Joseph presented the commission’s $514,332 budget request for fiscal year 2001-02. However, Finance Committee Chairwoman Alicia "Chucky" Hansen cut the hearing short because PSC chairman Walter Challenger wasn’t present to answer questions.
Joseph said he read a letter to the PSC from Hansen’s office about the budget hearing at the PSC’s June 19 meeting.
Challenger’s absence spurred Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to criticize Challenger’s leadership of the PSC, particularly how it regulates Innovative Telephone, formerly Vitelco. Donastorg blasted the PSC and Challenger for recently hiring AUS Consulting, which in the past worked for the phone company.
Joseph deferred questions about AUS to PSC board members, none of whom were at the hearing.
In addition to rate investigations of utilities, the PSC approved hiring AUS to investigate whether it should grant a request from Wireless World that Innovative Telephone allow Wireless World to interconnect with Innovative's local lines. Under federal deregulation laws, Wireless World is seeking to provide local telephone service in direct competition with Innovative, which to date has had a monopoly on local service. Wireless World and Innovative each will be assessed $50,000 to cover costs incurred by the PSC in hiring the consultant and holding hearings on the matter.
"Conveniently, AUS consulting was selected to conduct a rate investigation for a company they worked for," Donastorg said. "I don’t find that to be highly highly coincidental. I don’t consider it to be fair to the consumer to have the deck stacked against them."

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