April 2, 2004 – The case of the money missing from the Anti-litter and Beautification Fund continued to raise more questions than answers a week after the announcement that recycling and other programs were being shut down for lack of money.
Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission members reportedly met on Friday with Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to try to sort out the mess. None of them returned telephone calls on Friday requesting information.
Meanwhile, a senator is researching legislative appropriations from the fund in recent years, and the V.I. Inspector General's Office is in the midst of an audit of anti-litter funds requested in January by the ALBC's St. Thomas office.
The commission is blaming the Legislature for raiding the fund, but senators are saying they weren't the culprits. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone released to the media a spreadsheet on what was appropriated by the Legislature.
Malone said he thinks the commission, the Finance Department and OMB were all asleep at the wheel. "You would think they'd keep track," he said.
He said the first priority should be to determine a way to replenish the fund, then an investigation should be launched to find out how it got overdrawn. He said money that was appropriated and spent for unrelated purposed should be returned to the fund.
According to Malone's calculations, the current Legislature appropriated $3.9 million from the ALBC fund, all for the Public Works and Property and Procurement Departments. Two appropriations, each for $1.7 million, went to Public Works for maintenance, he said, and Public Works also received appropriations of $229,555 and $225,932 for used-oil management.
Additionally, Malone said, the 25th Legislature appropriated $130,000 from the fund to the governor's Abandoned Vehicle Task Force.
The previous Legislature, the 24th, was responsible for tapping the commission's fund to the tune of $22.5 million, according to the figures provided by Malone. Many of the appropriations appear related to cleaning up the islands. Malone said funding for V.I. Carnival, Crucian Christmas Festival and July 4th Celebration cleanup came to $600,000 each for St. Thomas and St. Croix and $150,000 for St. John.
The 24th also appropriated $4.4 million in anti-litter money to Public Works for equipment, supplies and maintenance for the sewer and waste water systems; $2.8 million to the Water and Power Authority for an unspecified purpose; $17,000 for books and a fence at Eudora Kean High School; $105,000 to rewire and install lights at Kirwan Terrace Elementary School. And it took $450,380 from the anti-litter fund for the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra program.
The 24th Legislature also voted to hit the fund for $500,000 to set up a Magistrate's Court; however, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed that appropriation.
Malone said on Friday that he was still researching the appropriations from the fund made by the 23rd Legislature.
Former Sen. Bent Lawaetz, who sponsored the bill that created the commission more than a decade ago, said earlier this week that the tax imposed on beverage bottles and cans to fund anti-litter efforts generates $4 million to $5 million a year.
Malone said his staff has found no evidence of money appropriated to pay firefighters's salaries or the costs of a retirement dinner honoring boxer Julian Jackson. The commission cited those items when it announced on March 26 that it was shutting down its recycling and other programs for lack of funds. It charged that the Legislature had appropriated the money for projects not related to cleaning up the islands.
Malone said the problems point up the need for a new accounting system.
He also asked V.I. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt to do an audit, but van Beverhoudt said on Friday that one is already under way at the request of the ALBC St. Thomas office — a request he said was made in early January.
"We've started the preliminary work," van Beverhoudt said, explaining that his office has requested information from the Finance Department and is researching the all legislation involving the commission funds.
Van Beverhoudt said he does not know when his office will complete its audit.
Malone also has asked for a Senate hearing on the matter. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Finance Committee, has not yet firmed up a date, his spokeswoman, Nicole Bollentini, said.
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