The Rules and Judiciary Committee approved two bills Thursday authorizing the government to seek more than $100 million in bond revenue for energy conservation installations in the territory's public schools and hospitals, as well as new police cars and an array of unfunded but shovel-ready capital projects. The authorization covers a large portion of bonding recently approved by the V.I. Public Finance Authority.
The bills, being sought by Gov. John deJongh Jr., would allow the authority to sell bonds secured by either gross receipts tax revenues or by remitted federal excise taxes from the territory's rum production, whichever provides a better rate.
Bill 29-0387 authorizes $35 million in bonding for energy conservation projects in 23 Education Department facilities and both hospitals, and are expected to ultimately save Education "millions of dollars over time," said Sen. Sammuel Sanes.
A number of schools have already had the energy saving changes implemented as part of a pilot project, Sanes said. "The pilot project works and we have already started to see the savings," he said.
Committee Chairman Sen. Usie Richards agreed, saying, "It is an important project where the government is seeking to reduce the cost of operating the schools."
The measure was approved, with Sanes, Richards, Sens. Patrick Sprauve and Celestino White voting yea. Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Ronald Russell were absent.
The other bonding bill started at $27.5 million when proposed by Government House, but increased to $30.5 million in the Finance Committee and stood at $43.5 million after Rules approved it Thursday, due to several amendments adding more capital projects to the bill.
Of the total, $7 million is for new police cars. During earlier committee hearings, Police Commissioner Henry White testified the entire 162 vehicle fleet dates to 2005, is near the end of its useful life and must be replaced. The plan is to replace 58 vehicles in each of the first two years, then replace the rest in the third year, he said. "No vehicle will be assigned to administrative staff," White said at the time.
- $4.5 million for phase II and III of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School track on St. Thomas;
- $1.5 million for the Charlotte Amalie High School track on St. Thomas;
- $2.2 million to complete the Education Complex track on St. Croix;
- $1.8 million to complete the Central High School track on St. Croix;
- $2 million for repairs to Fort Christian;
- $2 million to the Tutu Park library project;
- and $1.5 million for reconstruction of the Public Works garage in Sub Base, St. Thomas.
An amendment from Sanes during earlier hearings added:
- $2.5 million toward construction of a permanent building for the annual Crucian Christmas Festival;
- $600,000 for Monbijou Park bathroom repairs or installation;
- $150,000 for repairs to the Rudy Krieger Ball Park in Sion Farm;
- and $40,000 for bleachers in the Pedro Cruz Ball Park in Estate Profit.
Thursday, senators added:
- $300,000 for bathrooms at the ballpark in Estate Glynn;
- $2 million for roadwork in Frederiksted;
- $2 million for roadwork in Christiansted;
- $500,000 for work on the Christiansted boardwalk;
- $2.9 million to connect methane gas collection at Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas to the V.I. Water and Power Authority;
- $8 million, split evenly between the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and the Schneider Regional Medical Center for "general improvements and deferred maintenance";
- and $1 million for work on the Leonardo "Nardo" Trotman Drive on St. Thomas.
Those changes were made subject to the approval of the PFA, and increased the capital project funding to $43.5 million.
The bill further includes $5 million will go to the V.I. Waste Management Authority to help defray the costs of closing St. Croix's Anguilla landfill. The funds would pay for drilling and other work to help prepare the landfill for natural gas collection, among other initial costs, according to WMA.
It also authorizes the government to seek up to $32.2 million in bond debt for long-term financing of the local share of major broadband projects being financed by federal grants. The funding would replace an existing bank loan with a lower-interest government bond and so does not represent new debt but the replacement of high interest debt with lower interest debt.
Voting yea were Dowe, Sanes, Sprauve, White and Richards. Hansen and Russell were absent.
Three nominations were approved by Rules Thursday:
The committee approved V.I. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Kathleen Mackay's nomination to the position of V.I. Superior Court Judge; Dr. Donald Pomeranz to the VI. Board of Dental Examiners and M. Thomas Jackson for a third term as a member of the V.I. Public Services Commission.
All votes were unanimous. The bills and nominations will get final up or down votes before the full Legislature during session, which Richards said were scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20.