Oct. 25, 2005 An appropriations bill that distributes $9.3 million to various government departments and agencies was approved by the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. The funding for these appropriations comes from the more than $60 million in unanticipated revenues that turned up recently in the V.I. coffers.
The appropriations in the bill were originally included in a supplemental budget sent down by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in September when the revenues were first found. Some appropriations, which provide money for the Education Department and the Government Employees Retirement System, among others, were included in the Omnibus Bill, signed into law earlier this month. The rest of the appropriations were sent to the Finance Committee for further debate.
Senators were skeptical about approving additional appropriations Tuesday, as no one seems to know exactly how much the government has in excess revenues. Since $59.5 million of the revenues were appropriated in Omnibus Bill, senators were also shocked to find out there was more left to spend.
When asked how much revenue the government has collected this year, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said he is waiting on a final report from the Internal Revenue Bureau and the Finance Department. Mills said those figures will not be released until the end of this month.
Despite the skepticism and admonitions from Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson about over-appropriating, the committee unanimously passed the bill onto the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
Most of the money in the billsome $4.2 million will go to the Public Works Department for road repair on St. Thomas and St. Croix. This includes $250,000 to repair the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School bridge, and $2 million for the completion of the William's Delight Drainage/Flood Control Project.
George Phillips, acting commissioner of Public Works, said while $4.7 million was appropriated to the department in the Omnibus Bill, more money is needed for these "emergency projects."
Other appropriations in the bill are:
–$1 million to the Motor Vehicle Bureau for the purchase of equipment and supplies, and for the maintenance of facilities.
–$2 million for the V.I. Waste Management Authority for operating expenses.
–$200,000 for the Molasses Subsidy.
–$24, 327 for the Financial Management System Upgrade/Third Party Fiduciary.
Other provisions in the bill:
–Allow the director of the Office of Management and Budget to make adjustments to any amount of money available for salary increases for classified employees from the General Fund and any other funds.
–Amends section one in the executive budget to allow the $4.4 million available from the General Fund to Bearing Point for the completion of the Property Re-valuation Project, to be available until expended.
–Allows the other appropriations included in the bill to be available until expended.
Testimony was also given by Wayne Biggs, lending director for the Economic Development Authority, on a proposed $500,000 appropriation for the Micro Credit Loan program in the St. Thomas/St. John district. Biggs said because no money has been appropriated for the program since its inception, the appropriation is needed in order for the program to survive.
"There will be a shortfall of money needed to fund loans though the program unless something is injected quickly," he said. Biggs added approximately $1.4 million is still available to fund the program on St. Croix.
On a different note, appropriations made in the bill to the Justice Department to pay two firms for legal services rendered on behalf of the V.I. government were deleted from the bill Tuesday.
According to testimony given by Paul Paquin, assistant attorney general, Buchanan Ingersoll Professional Corporation and Winston and Strawn LLP, had provided legal representation for the government on several court cases between 2000 and 2003. While both firms had entered into contracts with the government for these cases, the contracts expired before anything was settled in court.
Since the government still needed the firms' services, Paquin said Attorney General Kerry Drue asked the firms to continue representing the government until the cases were settled. However, Paquin added Drue asked the firms to do so without identifying a funding source to pay for the services.
Having no choice, Paquin said the Justice Department had to request funding through Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who included the appropriations in his original supplementary budget.
Senators voted to delete these appropriations because they thought the original contract should state a funding source. In the case of Winston and Strawn, Paquin said he has been told by Kenneth Mapp, executive director of the Public Finance Authority, the contract does not include provisions to pay for litigation services.
Paquin also made senators unhappy when he stated these additional services were procured in violation of existing law.
Since Mapp was not in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, nor was anyone representing the PFA, senators voted to delete the section of the bill appropriating money to Justice to pay the firms.
The contracts were also deleted from another bill approved by the Senate Tuesday — asking the Legislature to ratify contracts entered into in violation of the V.I. Code.
Other contracts outlined in the second bill were approved, however, with testifiers making statements similar to Paquin'swhere a contract executed between the government and the individual companies expired before the specified work could be completed.
In these cases, senators said the vendors providing services should not be penalized. Instead, Nelson warned testifiers to "think twice" before entering into any more agreements, as there is the possibility of the government not being able to pay for services.
Attorney Lynn Millen, representing the Department of Property and Procurement, said the vendors were asked to continue work on projects after their contracts were expired. While Property and Procurement did seek to amend the original contracts to include payment for these services, language in the V.I. Code prohibits this from being done.
The only way for payment to be made, she said, is for the contracts to be amended and ratified by the Legislature.
The other contracts were unanimously passed by the Finance Committee. They are between the government and:
–Welsh Construction in the amount of $22,630 for work completed at the Day Adult Education Building on St. Thomas.
–Authentic Design and Construction in the amount of $59,312 for work completed at the Charlotte Amalie High School.
–Liston Network Systems in the amount of $69,545.45 for providing computer software and support services to the Board of Education.
–Liston Network Systems in the amount of $344,917.77 for equipment, services, maintenance and repair of various governmental departments.
–Roy's Construction in the amount of $184,310 for emergency roof repairs at the Charles Harwood Medical Facility.
Other appropriations approved in the first bill give:
–$50,000 to Diamond Youth Promotion Inc.'s after school baseball program.
–$25,000 to the Los Nuevos Rancheros Sports Club Inc for the Three King's Day Children's Celebration and other community enhancement programs.
–$105,000 to the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center Hemodialysis to replace seven dialysis units.
–$230,000 to the Grove Place Weed and Seed Program under the Police Department.
–$40,000 to Calypso Inc.'s Junior Calypso Competition and Youth Development Program.
–Funding for the maintenance of upkeep of recreational facilities and playgrounds for St. Croix housing communities under the auspices of the V.I. Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation. This includes:
–$25,000 for the LBJ Gardens Housing Community.
–$25,000 to the Anna's Hope Emergency Housi
–$25,000 for the Estate Campo Rico Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Kennedy Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Nicasio Nico Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Candido Guadelupe Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Williams Delight Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Walter M. Hodge Housing Community.
–$25,000 for the Whim Gardens Housing Community.
–$95,000 to Estate Profit for lighting for the basketball court and new bleachers.
–$15,000 for the D.C. Canegata Ball Park.
Present at Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Donastorg, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Norman Jn. Baptiste, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Usie R. Richards. Sen. Neville James was absent.
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