On Feb. 2, Phebe Schwartz, a local teacher, published a letter in which she took exception to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's purchase of two new vehicles (one for St. Thomas and one for St. Croix). Earlier, on Jan. 28, the Virgin Islands Daily News published an article which indicated that many Police officers were outraged by that expenditure.
However, if one reads the original story about these two new "limos", it becomes clear that these two purchases were not some wasteful frill.
The original article describing the purchase indicated that the two vehicles the governor had been using were a 10-year-old Lincoln Town Car and a Chrysler from the Farrelly Administration (i.e., well over 10 years old). The article also explained that more than $15,000 had been spent in keeping the Lincoln Town Car operational in Turnbull's administration alone and that it actually hadn't been used for several months because of such problems. While specifics were not provided on the amount spent to keep the Chrysler operational, it was indicated that it was also "rife with problems" and that a couple years ago it broke down while carrying a visiting dignitary. So, in other words, the vehicles have not been operational on a consistent basis and the government has been incurring significant repair costs to keep them in operation. Furthermore, the government got more than a decade's worth of use from both vehicles. Assuming that we can expect the same from the new vehicles, we've got 10 years of service from two vehicles for just $90,000 (excluding any future upkeep costs).
The Police officers complained that Police vehicles should be replaced first and that their vehicles are old. That article indicated that according to their contract, their vehicles are to be replaced every three years or if the vehicle accumulates 85,000 miles. Ignoring for the moment the issue of why a three-year-old vehicle is no good, it was also indicated that a fully equipped Police vehicle costs up to $30,000. In addition, the examples given of the old Police vehicles are from 1999, around six years old. $90,000 would purchase three Police vehicles, which (according to their contract) would be no good in three years. In the alternative, $90,000 would purchase one Police vehicle (replacing it every three years) good for just nine years. To have two Police vehicles for nine years, it would cost $180,000 (assuming prices don't increase) and you would still not match the decade of service we got from the Governor's previous two vehicles.
In short, $90,000 is a modest figure for a decade worth of service from two vehicles in daily use and it is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount it would cost to have every Police vehicle (or even one Police Vehicle) satisfy the three year/85,000 mile requirement for a decade.
The local teacher complained essentially that the negotiated raises and retroactive pay increases of the teachers should be paid before the governor's vehicles were replaced. She bases this assertion on her impression that "the government seems to have so much money for cars." As was stated earlier, $90,000 for a decade worth of service from two vehicles in daily use is a modest figure. In fact, it works out to just $4,500 per year for each vehicle. How does this compare to the amount of money it would take to pay negotiated raises and retroactive pay increases for Ms. Schwartz, her fellow teachers and every other government employee who has such a claim outstanding? The amount of $,9000 per year would be a drop in the bucket.
I understand that we as Virgin Islanders are inclined to look upon certain expenditures with suspicion given the territory's weak financial position. However, we must keep it all in perspective. A once-per-decade expenditure of $90,000 is not an attack upon government-wide pay increases or repair or replacement of the entire fleet of Police Department vehicles. That $90,000 would not pay a fraction of the massive cost of either of those projects. Now that is not to say that there are not other government expenditures we might point to as wasteful of money that could truly cut into these projects. In fact, I don't believe that every government official with a government vehicle needs a vehicle to do his or her job. I believe that if your government job does not require you to travel on an almost daily basis, the government shouldn't be paying for your vehicle just because of your title. However, I believe that the governor is, in fact, required to travel on an almost daily basis as part of his job and thus needs a government vehicle just as a Police officer or Public Works inspector needs a government vehicle during work hours. However, we must draw a distinction between those expenditures which are wasteful of a significant amount of money for no good reason and those expenditures which are modest and serve a proper purpose. I believe this was a modest expenditure that served a proper purpose.
A Government Employee
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to [email protected].