Sept. 11, 2001 – Facing a fast-approaching deadline, the Legislature, meeting as the Committee of the Whole, decided Monday night not to accept the proposed allocation of nearly $2.2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to 37 agencies that was submitted by the governor.
Nothing was put to a vote at the Monday night session. Instead, the senators decided to come up with their own plan to divvy up the federal funds. They gave themselves until Sept. 24 to do so — when a full session of the Senate is scheduled for a final vote on the grant allocations, which then are to be sent to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The deadline for submitting the CDBG funding plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the money, is July 31. For the third year in a row, the territory missed the deadline and had to ask HUD for an extension. Turnbull received an extension to Sept. 30 this year.
Not-for-profit and governmental agencies this year submitted requests that totaled $13.4 million for projects. The CDBG funding available for the territory is $2.189 million. A Planning and Natural Resources Department commission reviews applications and makes its recommendations to the governor, who reviews them before forwarding them to the Legislature.
Laurence Joshua, the CDBG commission director since 1988, took a lot of criticism before the Senate Monday night for missing the deadilne for submitting the information. Sen. Emmett Hansen II suggested that if the territory submitted grant proposals on time, it could get more money for funding. "If they see we can't handle what we have now, we won't get more," he said.
Sen. Lorraine Berry said the fund proposals are always late, "It's not just this governor," she said.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan was sharply critical of Joshua not having written to the commissioner or the governor about the perennial delays."You're a waste," he told Joshua.
The territory's CDBG funds include $437,800 for administrative costs. Sens. Carlton Dowe and Celestino A. White Sr. asked why these costs aren't paid out of the General Fund. White, who made repreated references to his recently announced 2002 gubernatorial bid, said, "When I'm up there, I'm going to smoke you guys out. In 2002, we'll have a new fellow on the block, and we'll change all that."
White also said he thought the funds should be administered by the V.I. Housing Authority, an idea with which Claudette Lewis, Planning and Natural Resources deputy commissioner, agreed. "Te funds could be put to better use under VIHA, which is funded under HUD," she said.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole objected to CDGB funding for school handicap-access ramps, saying such expenditures should come out of the Education Department's $200 million budget. "Schools are supposed to be handicapped-equipped," he said, "and we shouldn't be dipping into these limited funds."
After some quick research, the Senate legal counsel assured Bryan that the Legislature can reprogram the funds. "We've done it before, and we can do it again," Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd said later. Attorney General Iver Stridiron said the Legislature can do whatever it wants with the block grants, but "the governor can still line-item veto it."
The gallery was filled with grant applicants who waited from the 5 p.m. scheduled start of the hearing until about 8 p.m.to begin their presentations. The many agencies, not-for-profit and public, told similar stories: year after year of increasing work and decreasing funds. Numerous agencies what had requested more were granted $15,000. The VIHA scuba diving program was granted $7,500, which Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel described as "ridiculous. My 7-year-old son can spend that in one afternoon at the mall."
Carolyn Smith and JoAnne Saunders, directors of the V.I. Resource Centers on St. Thomas and St. John, respectively, made impassioned pleas for the meager funds they were awarded — $10,000 for St. John, $5,000 less than last year, and $15,000 for St. Thomas.
"I am taken aback at $10,000; I beg you for more," said Saunders, who has been running the St. John program for about 12 years. She said that no matter what happened this year, she was going to organize a wheel chair ballerinas program.
The biggest allocation is $220,000, for rehabilitation of the Frenchtown fishermen's facility. Administrator Louis Hill, aided by architect Torgen Johnson, presented a slide show about the project, which is part of an overall waterfront enhancement plan. It would consist of a covered pavilion for fish cleaning fronted by palm trees and containing two public restrooms.
Johnson, a five-year St. Thomas resident, said he had been working free of charge on the project. He said the territory is "impoverished" when it can afford $1 million for a "bridge to nowhere and can't construct public bathrooms." Johnson, whose presentation was last, said he felt "humbled" appearing after those who presented the other worthwhile projects. But he maintained the facility is necessary and will help the island and the tourism industry.
Not if White and Pickard-Samuel have anything to say about it. Both vehemently opposed the Frenchtown project, accusing Hill and Johnson of putting it ahead of worthy faith-based proposals. Pickard-Samuel said, "We aren't going to have somebody who's lived here five years calling us 'impoverished.' It's unfair to the children you want to put up in jails."
White said, "We don't need palm trees, and why should a lady be scaling fish in the afternoon sun anyhow?" He added, "When I'm up there, I'm always going to have to come back down here to straighten you out."
White and Pickard-Samuel also said the large grant for that project was in conflict with the $40,850 proposed for renovation of the American Legion facility on St. Thomas.
For a full description of the programs and their proposed funding, see the Source story "Governor seeks CDBG funds for 37 projects"
The funding by island is:
– St. Thomas, 18 proposals — $803,950.
– St. John, 5 proposals — $71,650.
– St. Croix, 14 proposals — $875,600.
Administration — $437,800.
Total — $2,189,000.
The Committee of the Whole was scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix to hear the CDBG allocations proposed for St. Croix agencies. However, that session has been postponed until a later date to be announced because of the terrorist attacks on the mainland Tuesday morning.
Sens. Berry, Bryan, Douglas Canton Jr., Cole, Dowe, Hansen II, David Jones, Liburd, Pickard-Samuel, Vargrave Richards and White were present. Roosevelt David was excused. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn. Baptiste and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen were absent.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here