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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, December 2, 2023


The St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce is enjoying its the best financial health in years, three-term president Tom Brunt III said as he passed the gavel to John deJongh on Friday.
"Over the past three years, we've seen a very dramatic swing," the V.I. Independent reported Brunt as saying. "For the first time in many years, the chamber is on very solid financial ground."
Membership, which hovered around 500 in the early 1990s, dwindled to about 320 in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, Brunt said. But today, thanks in part to active recruitment efforts last year, it is double that.
For 1999, one of the chamber's priorities is to develop a series of tax reform proposals that it will propose to the government, according to Brunt, who owns MSI Building Supplies and other local businesses.
DeJongh, chief executive officer of Lockhart Caribbean Corp., noted that the business sector faces the dual challenges of operating in the environment of a fiscally depressed government and competing with emerging tourism initiatives within the Caribbean.
Addressing the chamber membership at its annual meeting and installation ceremony, Gov. Charles Turnbull pledged relief from "the restraining rules and regulations that prevent the private sector from growing and expanding."
Turnbull said as the financially stricken government embarks on the process of downsizing, it will look to the private sector to absorb workers now on the public payroll. He said federal officials are well aware of the territory's economic problems and "know of our mismanagement of what we have."
Brunt said a major challenge for the chamber is to make the new administration and legislature aware of private sector concerns. But he expressed optimism as the business sector undertakes to "educate them on the issues."
Meantime, according to the Independent, hoteliers have pledged to hold Turnbull accountable for his pledge to support using all hotel room-tax money for its legally mandated purpose — tourism advertising.
A blatant recent deviation occurs in the territory's fiscal year 1999 budget, prepared by the previous administration, according to Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association. He said the budget appropriated $500,000 from the fund for carnival activities on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John and termed the move a typical example of the government using its tax resources unwisely and perhaps illegally.
"There is no accounting for how the funds are spent," Doumeng said. "And at any rate, using that money for the creation of events — rather than the advertising of those events — is not the proper use of the money."
He said carnival celebrations do not attract tourists but, rather, bring islanders living abroad home for a time. "The only way to make carnival a true tourist attraction is to advertise it," he said.
At the end of 1998, the government owed its mainland public relations firm, Martin Public Relations, about a million dollars, the Independent said. Its former advertising agency, Greengage Associates, is still owed "a very substantial amount," and its present ad firm, Lowe & Partners, is said to be owed several hundred thousand dollars. An attorney for Greengage told the St. Croix Avis legal action against the government is pending.

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