April 10, 2002 – The Senate Finance Committee approved one lease but failed to act on another or on five appropriation transfers on its agenda Tuesday after it lost a quorum, leaving only three of the seven committee members — Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Carlton Dowe — present.
Hansen, the committee chair, accused Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. of breaking the quorum by not returning after a brief recess for a vote on the second lease. "He is willing to risk all the other measures," she said around noon in reference to the pending appropriations that were to be addressed in the afternoon.
In the morning, departing from the agenda, Pickard-Samuel moved to subpoena Health Department officials and all Health employees of the Frederiksted clinic to attend the committee's next meeting, scheduled for April 16. Canton abstained from voting on the motion, which carried 3-0. Hansen said that "the Health Department employees wanted to be subpoenaed so that some degree of comfort comes into the Ingeborg Nesbitt Clinic."
In a press release dated April 2, Hansen had said that her office had received numerous complaints from patients and staff at the Frederiksted clinic concerning the Medical Assistance Program and environmental issues. "Apparently, internal confusion again at the Ingeborg Nesbitt Clinic in Frederiksted is causing patients to go without health care and medication," she said.
Her release cited a bill introduced by Canton to authorize the governor to lease the clinic to Frederiksted Health Center Inc., a not-for-profit, independent board appointed by the governor.
Canton on Tuesday called an emergency meeting on Friday of his Health and Hospitals Committee to discuss the clinic situation. In response to Hansen's April 2 release, Canton said that "the staff are disrespected and placed in a negative light due to failure of officials to do an on-site inspection."
Later in the Finance Committee session Tuesday morning, Pickard-Samuel again departed from the agenda and moved to subpoena the Water and Power Authority executive director, Joseph Thomas, and other WAPA officials to testify about payments made for a WAPA executive's moving costs and to lease a condominium unit for use by St. Thomas utility personnel when they travel to St. Croix on business. The motion directed those being subpoenaed to provide documents dating from April 1, 2001, to April 6, 2002, including contractual agreements, reimbursements for travel and moving expenses, condo fees, reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses, and per diem paid to WAPA officers and board members. "We don't have sufficient information; that's why we are subpoenaing," she said.
The committee recessed after this motion was offered. When the body returned, there was no action on it due to the lack of a quorum.
The lease approved by the committee is a 10-year, renewable agreement for Pauline and Dean Martin to operate a restaurant and bar at 16 Sub Base on St. Thomas. Not voted upon was a proposed 20-year lease to Smith's Feed Shop for warehouse and office space at 101 Sub Base.
Testimony on four proposed appropriation transfers was heard, although a vote could not be taken due to the lack of a quorum. Testifying were Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull; the Internal Revenue Bureau director, Louis Willis; the Management and Budget director, Ira Mills; and Karen Andrews, the administration's chief labor negotiator.
The transfer requests were for:
– $46,192 to the Personnel Division/Office of Collective Bargaining.
– $150,000 and $459,389 to the Finance Department.
– $290,000 to the Internal Revenue Bureau.
In the smaller Finance request, Turnbull asked the committee to transfer $100,000 for personnel and $50,000 for public utilities.
In the larger request, she asked for another $65,000 for utilities and $95,000 to lease space from Capital Records Mgmt. Inc., a subsidiary of R.C. Spenceley Office Equipment, to store records on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. She said the storage space is needed because while most agencies keep their records for seven years, Finance has received requests from the federal Internal Revenue Service for documents dating back 10 years.
Turnbull said the larger request also includes $122,044 for personal services and fringe benefits; $30,000 for computers; $55,795 for supplies; $43,000 for security guards and $48,550 for communications.
Hansen asked if the 2002 Finance Department budget appropriation of $144,154 for utilities was not what Turnbull had requested. Turnbull said she needs the additional $115,000 due to new mandates for homeland security measures and increasing utility bills. "Just like every customer in the V.I., you have seen an increase," Hansen said. "This is a major increase!"
Willis, in detailing his $290,000 transfer request, said $85,000 is for professional services including those of a tax attorney; $140,000 is for travel, housing and per diem for 28 revenue agents to attend training on the mainland to be provided by the IRS; $5,000 is for insurance and $60,000 is for other expenses.
He said he retained the services of tax attorney Joanne Bozzuto to represent the V.I. government in three cases before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. "We really needed her," he said.
"I don't think IRB could find a better tax attorney," Hansen said of Bozzuto, who is on loan from a contract with the Finance Department for the government's 2001 audit.
Willis also told the committee that over the next three months he will try to meet last year's tax collection projection of $484 million. "The third quarter is the one that makes or breaks you," he said.
Dowe asked when residents entitled to 2001 tax refunds can expect to receive them. "That's a million-dollar question," the IRB director said. He said the IRB's new scanning devices, which can scan 200 tax returns per day, are being tested to work out a few minor bugs. He said he hopes to complete the processing of returns in three months instead of the usual eight. IRB will begin to pay interest on refunds owed taxpayers after May 30, he said.
Willis said the IRB offices will stay open until 9 p.m. on April 15, the deadline for filing income tax returns.
Also on the agenda was an appropriation transfer request of $66,750 to the Board of Education. Witnesses for this item were excused and will be rescheduled to appear at a later date, according to Hansen's office. The other four appropriation transfer requests were held in committee until the April 16 meeting.
Committee members present at roll call were Sens. Canton, Dowe, A. Hansen and Pickard-Samuel. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was excused; Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg were absent.
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