July 9, 2004 – The Senate chambers were filled with members of public and not-for-profit community advocacy organizations Thursday evening making their annual pleas for funding from the territory's federal Community Development Block Grant.
The grant this year is for $1.9 million, and the administration has proposed that it be divided among 33 projects — 14 on St. Thomas, 15 on St. Croix and four on St. John.
On Thursday night the Committee of the Whole heard from St. Thomas and St. John program directors. On Friday night, they will hear from St. Croix program representatives.
Requests customarily outnumber by far the available funds, and this year is no exception. The Planning and Natural Resources Department, which administers the CDBG program for the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, received 81 funding requests for a total of $8.9 million.
At public hearings in both districts in April, CDBG staff took testimony from the applicants. Then the staff winnowed the requests down to the present 33. Claudette Lewis, DPNR assistant commissioner, said Thursday night that neither her staff nor the governor thought any of the projects "unworthy." But, she said, "How can you best distribute $1.9 million among $8.9 million worth of projects while ensuring each project is funded in an amount sufficient to ensure its completion?"
Lewis and Lawrence Joshua, V.I. block grant program director since 1988, listened to the groups' requests for about three hours. Many were for projects that appear to address urgent needs, notably in the area of children's services.
Lewis said Gov. Charles W. Turnbull also is proposing to reprogram $484,101 awarded to various projects from previous years' grants.
One such award was for $284,101 from the 2002 grant, for demolition of the Louis E. Brown Housing complex on St. Croix. However, Lewis said Thursday night, "today we received a letter from the V.I. Housing Authority stating that they no longer want to reprogram these funds." The money is intended for the installation of separate water meters at Williams Delight on St. Croix.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. took issue with the idea. "Why does Housing need $284,000 to tear down the Louis Brown complex?" he asked. "They want to tear down this housing community and then do nothing after that. When we hear about the federal government, we think it is good; it is not always good. I want to know what they are going to do after they tear down the complex."
Turnbull also is seeking to reprogram $200,000 of an award of $250,000 in 2001 for a Garden Street playground. The playground construction hasn't begun because of a problem with the site. The funds would instead go toward the purchase of a building in Hospital Ground for Catholic Charities to use as transitional housing for the homeless.
A new bid for playground funding was presented by Lockhart Elementary School administrator Lisa Hassel-Forde, who made an articulate and emotional appeal on behalf of her pupils, saying they have no place to play. The school, rebuilt after being destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn, is situated on a quarter of an acre of land "filled now with rocks," she said.
Students "pitch rocks at teachers, cars and each other," she said. "And we have had to take them to the emergency room at the hospital."
The school is seeking $40,000 for a three-phase program to include a covered sports pavilion, a basketball court, two volleyball courts and a playground with slides and swings which will be available to the special-needs students that the school enrolls. She said the students now are bused to other locations to play sports.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, an advocate for capital projects, especially school improvements, said Hassel-Forde shouldn't even have to be there. "Lockhart School has no place here. They shouldn't have to be here if education is our first priority," he said. "How do you construct a big school with no playground?" he asked. "And then we say we are for our children."
The audience got an invitation to Frenchtown for July 17. Alan Richardson, Frenchtown Civic Organization spokesman, said the group's Frenchtown Heritage Museum, scheduled to open on that date, is in need of further funding. The organization received $50,000 in block grant money last year, but more is needed, he said, mainly for electrical and plumbing work.
Richardson said the FTCO sought bids for the work and got a proposal of about $49,000 "for the roof only." So, he said, "we did the work ourselves."
Richardson was passionate about the museum. He invited everyone to the opening ceremonies and celebration set to begin at 2 p.m.
Turnbull's proposed allocation of funds comes to $490,750 for St. Thomas, $775,200 for St. Croix and $284,450 for St. John. As is customary, the totals for the two districts are identical. The governor also is proposing an allocation of $387,600 for grant administration.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the proposed allocations at a legislative session on Tuesday.
Proposed St. Thomas-St. John District Funding
1. Continuum of Care for the Homeless Committee $15,700 to serve as a match for up to $1 million in HUD funding for a homeless outreach program. The committee comprises representatives of homeless provider agencies and is headed by DPNR.
2. Education Department $40,000 for construction of a pavilion at Lockhart Elementary School. The project received $55,000 in CDBG funding last year.
3. Girl Scout Council of the Virgin Islands $275,050 to rebuild the Girl Scout facility in Bordeaux. 2002 CDBG funding of $50,000 was used for design work.
4. Frenchtown Civic Organization $25,000 to complete the rehabilitation of the Frenchtown Museum building. The project received $50,000 in CDBG funding last year.
5. Housing, Parks and Recreation Department $10,000 to operate a swimming and after-school program that has received CDBG funding for the last two years.
6. KidsCope $10,000 for a crisis intervention program of services to children and their families who have been exposed to domestic violence.
7. Methodist Training and Outreach Center $15,000 for the operation of an after-school program at its facility on Kronprindsens Gade.
8. Nisky Moravian Church $15,000 for an after-school program at the church.
9. St. Andrews Seek and Search $15,000 to be used for an after-school program at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Sugar Estate.
10. V.I. Mission Inc. $15,000 to operate an after-school program at Vitraco Park.
11. V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled $12,000 to operate an after-school disabled training program for disabled children at 74-75 Kronprindsens Gade now in its sixth year.
12. V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled $15,000 to operate a Down Street after-school program for the disabled at 74-75 Kronprindsens Gade now in its sixth year.
13. We from Up Street Inc. $15,000 for the operation of an after-school program at J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School.
14. We Savaneros Inc. $15,000 for operation of an after-school program at the Savan Community Center.
1. Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands $10,000 to pay staff for the operation of a computer training program at St. Ursula Church.
2. Public Works Department $25,000 for improvement of the public restrooms in Cruz Bay.
3. Safety Zone $239,450 for construction of a second story on the agency's shelter for domestic violence victims. The first floor was constructed using $300,000 in CDBG funding.
4. V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled $8,000 for an after-school program for disabled children at Julius E. Sprauve School now in its sixth year.
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