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HomeNewsArchivesIMPASSIONED OPINIONS AIRED AT WEST END MEETING

IMPASSIONED OPINIONS AIRED AT WEST END MEETING

March 8, 2004 – Six senators, representatives of two civic organizations, half a dozen local officials and about 30 vocal residents of St. Thomas's West End gathered at a shelter next to the Bordeaux basketball courts on Sunday to seek solutions to problems that have long plagued that part of the island and those who call it home.
The meeting, characterized by lively and sometimes confrontational debate, was organized by a small group of concerned citizens temporarily calling themselves the St. Thomas West End Alliance — or WEALL.
A languishing community center construction project, the need for a more functional bus stop and improved roadways, and the lack of an alternate route connecting Fortuna and Bordeaux with the rest of St. Thomas all were on the agenda presented by WEALL's interim president, Gustave Dowling, at the outset of the meeting.
But these issues quickly took a back seat to what many there saw as a more pressing problem: fire-emergency readiness. WEALL board member Lendrick Thomas said: "We are not ready for a fire at all."
In Fortuna sits a government trailer that once housed police, ambulance and Fire Service emergency personnel and equipment. The unit has stood empty since June of 1999, and the West End has been without these on-site services. The land belongs the Housing Finance Authority; it's currently being used to store construction equipment and materials for a nearby public housing project.
The Legislature appropriated $1.4 million in its fiscal year 2004 budget for the hiring and training of 24 new firefighters, according to the president of the St. Thomas-St. John District firefighters union, Daryl George. This would have provided a temporary solution to the lack of fire services on the West End and would have been a good start toward a long-term solution, he said.
But Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the entire 2004 budget in December.
At start of the meeting, Dowling gave each senator present a few moments to address the group and take questions. But first he told them on behalf of WEALL: "We are putting our elected officials on notice that we are watching you, and we are organizing. And come Nov. 2, we will not be voting for those of you who are against us."
The senators present were Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Celestino A. White Sr.
Donastorg, saying he had to leave early because he is under doctor's orders to spend two weeks in bed resting, addressed the crowd first. "What comes to mind when I think about what's happening here on the West End is the phrase 'taxation without representation,'" he said.
The multipurpose community center "has been in limbo for several years now, your roads are in disrepair, and these things, along with the absence of emergency and protective services, constitute a violation of a taxpayer's basic rights," he said.
Hill said he was there to listen to the concerns of West End residents and would hold his comments until later in the meeting.
Senators to seek partial override of budget veto
Liburd said there will be an attempt in the Senate this week to override the governor's veto of the $1.4 million appropriation for new firefighters and of $12 million for raises negotiated in 2002 for firefighters, teachers, police officers and other government workers.
"We believe we have the 10 required votes for the override," Liburd said. Still, he urged those present to lobby his Senate colleagues and to attend the legislative session, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday and continue into Thursday.
"Watch them," Liburd said. "See who votes for the override, and see who doesn't."
Dowe, a former fireman, is leading the override effort. "This is the right thing to do," he said on Sunday. "Education, fire protection, emergency services — these are human issues, not political issues." He, too, encouraged West End residents to attend Wednesday's session.
David — a member of the Democratic majority, whereas Liburd and Dowe are minority members — also expressed support for the veto effort but didn't speak at length.
Merwin Potter, recently named acting Fire Service director, said he is drafting a comprehensive, territorywide fire-safety plan that he will soon present to Turnbull and then to the Senate.
Potter admitted that the Fire Service is understaffed and undertrained and lacking in needed equipment. But, he pointed out, "Whether we like it or not, everything in this territory is political, and everything has a price tag."
The money to fund what's needed "simply doesn't exist right now," Potter said — and Hill repeated later. "I agree that we must provide a higher quality of fire service for the whole territory, but there is a proper way of going about that."
Hill said he will support the veto override effort and that he believes it will succeed. "But," he added, "we have to ask, 'Are the resources out there to fund this?' Because if there are not, then we can override all we want, and it won't change anything."
Residents eye volunteer efforts, tax protest
Much of what the senators had to say appeared to made little impression on some of the area residents at the meeting.
James M. Jowers said he has lived in Fortuna Bay for more than 20 years and that he has little faith that the government can or will do anything about the problems on that part of the island.
"Either they don't have the money at all, or they won't use the money they have to fix things out here," he said, suggesting that West End residents should consider setting up volunteer services as a possible solution.
That idea met stiff resistance from senators and firefighting officials.
George said the firefighters' union would"never allow it."
Potter said it was a no-no, citing liability, union and public safety issues.
However, a representative from Sen. Lorraine Berry's office, Tony Cyntje, said the idea of supplementing Fire Service staff with volunteers should be considered.
WEALL board member Sheri Meyer said West End residents have been patient with the government, but that their patience is running out. "We are trying to find a way to demand that a percentage of our property taxes go directly into emergency services," she said. "The population is growing dramatically out here, the tax base is growing, but our services are not improving."
The comment was nearly identical to one made by Ann Durante-Arnold, president of the Northside Civic Association, three days earlier with regard to the Dorothea fire station, which also is closed and has been for most of the last five years. "There is an empty firehouse on the North Side. It was built because there are fires here," she said. "The population of this area is growing, the tax base is growing, and still there is an empty firehouse. Why?"
On Sunday, there was talk among WEALL members of organizing a tax protest. "We're paying for these things, but we're not getting what we're paying for," Meyer said. "The situation has become unsafe, and if things don't get fixed soon, I think we should stop paying."
Several members of the Northside Civic Organization were present at Sunday's meeting to show their support for WEALL and to test the waters for possible collaboration by the two groups.
To promote that potential and to encourage the West End residents to obtain official status, Northside member Jason Budsan presented WEALL with copies of the NCO's articles of incorporation.
"Together we can be stronger," Budsan said.

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March 8, 2004 - Six senators, representatives of two civic organizations, half a dozen local officials and about 30 vocal residents of St. Thomas's West End gathered at a shelter next to the Bordeaux basketball courts on Sunday to seek solutions to problems that have long plagued that part of the island and those who call it home.
The meeting, characterized by lively and sometimes confrontational debate, was organized by a small group of concerned citizens temporarily calling themselves the St. Thomas West End Alliance -- or WEALL.
A languishing community center construction project, the need for a more functional bus stop and improved roadways, and the lack of an alternate route connecting Fortuna and Bordeaux with the rest of St. Thomas all were on the agenda presented by WEALL's interim president, Gustave Dowling, at the outset of the meeting.
But these issues quickly took a back seat to what many there saw as a more pressing problem: fire-emergency readiness. WEALL board member Lendrick Thomas said: "We are not ready for a fire at all."
In Fortuna sits a government trailer that once housed police, ambulance and Fire Service emergency personnel and equipment. The unit has stood empty since June of 1999, and the West End has been without these on-site services. The land belongs the Housing Finance Authority; it's currently being used to store construction equipment and materials for a nearby public housing project.
The Legislature appropriated $1.4 million in its fiscal year 2004 budget for the hiring and training of 24 new firefighters, according to the president of the St. Thomas-St. John District firefighters union, Daryl George. This would have provided a temporary solution to the lack of fire services on the West End and would have been a good start toward a long-term solution, he said.
But Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the entire 2004 budget in December.
At start of the meeting, Dowling gave each senator present a few moments to address the group and take questions. But first he told them on behalf of WEALL: "We are putting our elected officials on notice that we are watching you, and we are organizing. And come Nov. 2, we will not be voting for those of you who are against us."
The senators present were Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Celestino A. White Sr.
Donastorg, saying he had to leave early because he is under doctor's orders to spend two weeks in bed resting, addressed the crowd first. "What comes to mind when I think about what's happening here on the West End is the phrase 'taxation without representation,'" he said.
The multipurpose community center "has been in limbo for several years now, your roads are in disrepair, and these things, along with the absence of emergency and protective services, constitute a violation of a taxpayer's basic rights," he said.
Hill said he was there to listen to the concerns of West End residents and would hold his comments until later in the meeting.
Senators to seek partial override of budget veto
Liburd said there will be an attempt in the Senate this week to override the governor's veto of the $1.4 million appropriation for new firefighters and of $12 million for raises negotiated in 2002 for firefighters, teachers, police officers and other government workers.
"We believe we have the 10 required votes for the override," Liburd said. Still, he urged those present to lobby his Senate colleagues and to attend the legislative session, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday and continue into Thursday.
"Watch them," Liburd said. "See who votes for the override, and see who doesn't."
Dowe, a former fireman, is leading the override effort. "This is the right thing to do," he said on Sunday. "Education, fire protection, emergency services -- these are human issues, not political issues." He, too, encouraged West End residents to attend Wednesday's session.
David -- a member of the Democratic majority, whereas Liburd and Dowe are minority members -- also expressed support for the veto effort but didn't speak at length.
Merwin Potter, recently named acting Fire Service director, said he is drafting a comprehensive, territorywide fire-safety plan that he will soon present to Turnbull and then to the Senate.
Potter admitted that the Fire Service is understaffed and undertrained and lacking in needed equipment. But, he pointed out, "Whether we like it or not, everything in this territory is political, and everything has a price tag."
The money to fund what's needed "simply doesn't exist right now," Potter said -- and Hill repeated later. "I agree that we must provide a higher quality of fire service for the whole territory, but there is a proper way of going about that."
Hill said he will support the veto override effort and that he believes it will succeed. "But," he added, "we have to ask, 'Are the resources out there to fund this?' Because if there are not, then we can override all we want, and it won't change anything."
Residents eye volunteer efforts, tax protest
Much of what the senators had to say appeared to made little impression on some of the area residents at the meeting.
James M. Jowers said he has lived in Fortuna Bay for more than 20 years and that he has little faith that the government can or will do anything about the problems on that part of the island.
"Either they don't have the money at all, or they won't use the money they have to fix things out here," he said, suggesting that West End residents should consider setting up volunteer services as a possible solution.
That idea met stiff resistance from senators and firefighting officials.
George said the firefighters' union would"never allow it."
Potter said it was a no-no, citing liability, union and public safety issues.
However, a representative from Sen. Lorraine Berry's office, Tony Cyntje, said the idea of supplementing Fire Service staff with volunteers should be considered.
WEALL board member Sheri Meyer said West End residents have been patient with the government, but that their patience is running out. "We are trying to find a way to demand that a percentage of our property taxes go directly into emergency services," she said. "The population is growing dramatically out here, the tax base is growing, but our services are not improving."
The comment was nearly identical to one made by Ann Durante-Arnold, president of the Northside Civic Association, three days earlier with regard to the Dorothea fire station, which also is closed and has been for most of the last five years. "There is an empty firehouse on the North Side. It was built because there are fires here," she said. "The population of this area is growing, the tax base is growing, and still there is an empty firehouse. Why?"
On Sunday, there was talk among WEALL members of organizing a tax protest. "We're paying for these things, but we're not getting what we're paying for," Meyer said. "The situation has become unsafe, and if things don't get fixed soon, I think we should stop paying."
Several members of the Northside Civic Organization were present at Sunday's meeting to show their support for WEALL and to test the waters for possible collaboration by the two groups.
To promote that potential and to encourage the West End residents to obtain official status, Northside member Jason Budsan presented WEALL with copies of the NCO's articles of incorporation.
"Together we can be stronger," Budsan said.

Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much -- and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice ... click here.