Sept. 2, 2001 — The Senate Finance Committee continued its Fiscal Year 2002 budget hearings with another marathon session -– this time on Saturday, and with only one senator present through part of the meeting.
Public Works Department
The St. Croix session kicked off with the Public Works Department, with the focus primarily on what the department is doing to solve the solid waste and sewage problem on St. Croix. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered Public Works to stop receiving trash at the Anguilla Landfill by the end of 2002 because scavenging birds and fires pose a hazard to the adjacent Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Because a new facility to handle solid waste will take up to three years to permit and build, Public Works will not meet the FAA deadline. Therefore, an interim plan that is acceptable to the FAA will be developed, according to Sonya Nelthropp, technical assistant to Commissioner Wayne Callwood for waste issues.
She said the government and Caribe Waste Technologies are still negotiating a contract for the company to construct a solid waste gasification facility on St. Croix that would handle the entire territory’s waste stream.
Nelthropp said the interim plan will entail a "material recover" facility, known on the mainland as a MERF. In order to divert as much waste as possible from going into the landfill, she said, a temporary roofed facility will be erected for recyclable and compostable material to be separated from trash. Plastics, glass and other material will be set aside so that officials can reduce the amount of garbage to be consigned to a landfill and "deal with what’s left."
"The garbage would be going into a facility and wouldn’t be landfilled," Nelthropp said.
She said bid requests for the temporary system will go out in the next 10 days. The action on the government’s part, Nelthropp said, will prove to the FAA that the government is being proactive and that an extension to the 2002 deadline is warranted.
"That’s what the FAA wants," she said. "To get it moving."
Public Works has budgeted about $650,000 to have an independent firm evaluate the sewage system on St. Croix to determine how much of the pipe system -– parts of which are up to 50 years old -– needs to be replaced. Public Works is also studying plans to build a new wastewater treatment plant on St. Croix that meets federal discharge requirements.
Planning and Natural Resources Department
The agency in charge of regulating Public Works’ many environmental transgressions defended its budget on Saturday afternoon.
Commissioner Dean Plaskett said his budget request for FY 2002 is $23.8 million. Of that, $5.8 million would come from the General Fund. About half of the total budget is to be federally funded.
Plaskett noted that because so many department projects and staffing needs are federally funded, locally funded personnel costs make up 42 percent of DPNR’s budget. He compared that to other departments where he said personnel costs account for 70 percent to 90 percent of the local budget.
The proposed DPNR budget includes $300,000 to fund the territory’s solid waste regulatory plan. However, three additional staff members are needed for the program. Until DPNR recently submitted its regulatory plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the issue had been a bone of contention for several years.
"If we didn’t complete the task, solid waste authority would sit with the feds," Plaskett said.
Education Department
By the time Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds presented her $128.9 million budget, at about 6 p.m., the Finance Committee chair, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, was the only senator present. Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Carlton Dowe, who had been present earlier in the day, were gone. All reside on St. Thomas. The other two committee members, Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Norman Jn. Baptiste, were excused.
Simmonds said that about $115 million of her budget is for personnel and benefits, about $2 million covers materials and supplies, and $3.5 million is for utility costs.
Despite the large portion of the money going for personnel costs, Simmonds said, the department has a teacher shortage.
"While our recruitment effort has been a success, we continue to receive resignations," she said, noting that in the last week seven teachers quit their jobs.
She said two of those individuals had been in the system for 30 years before taking teaching jobs in Maryland.
"We have a number of teachers who are looking for employment on the mainland," she said.
Simmonds said when teachers who quit don’t give sufficient notice, they are documented as leaving "not in good standing." The department will not later rehire teachers with such a notation in their files, she said.
As the new academic year gets under way, the department also is short of registered nurses, librarians and custodial staff, Simmonds said.


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