June 2, 2004 Of all Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposals in his 2005 budget, which he detailed Tuesday; the one that got Sen. Emmett Hansen II's attention was Turnbull's opposition again to Hansen's Infrastructure Maintenance Act.
After two vetoes, and an override that failed in the 24th Legislature; the measure sailed through the 25th Legislature last September on a 13-0 override vote.
The altered bill calls for 6 percent of property tax revenues to be divided equally into separate funds for street lighting, potable water distribution and road maintenance. The funds would be set up for St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. In other words, for each island, 2 percent of its property taxes would go into each of the three infrastructure funds for that particular island. The original measure called for allocating 15 percent of the tax revenues.
Turnbull said Tuesday he has submitted legislation repealing the infrastructure act because it "deposits 18 percent of real property tax revenues into a district public road fund, district street lighting fund and district potable water fund. We simply cannot afford this reduction in property taxes from the General Fund."
"He can't even get the figures right," Hansen said Tuesday evening. Hansen is especially dismayed at the governor's actions because he feels, if infrastructure is not maintained, the goals of his proposed Home Ownership Act will also be gutted.
"I have no intention of playing games with Government House," Hansen said. "I think it is an evil thing they are doing by trying to steal the home ownership issue. They know how difficult it has been for people to get homes." The proper infrastructure is critical to home building, Hansen said.
His housing bill will allow 500 affordable homes a year to be built in the territory for the next five years.
"With a median cost of $120,000 for homes, the initiative amounts to $300 million in economic activity over the next five years," Hansen said. "It will bring money into the territory."
The legislation also provides a means for delinquent taxpayers to deed land equal in value to their tax indebtedness to the government. It is estimated there is between $80 million and $120 million owed in delinquent taxes.
The bill will be debated Thursday night on St. Thomas before the Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee which Hansen chairs. The legislation has three ingredients..
– It provides for delinquent taxpayers to deed land to cover tax indebtedness.
– It allows for property owners to donate at least three acres of land to the government for affordable housing. Those property owners would receive tax rebates on double the amount of land donated, however, the land must be contiguous. This, Hansen said, would prevent persons donating inferior land and receiving tax rebates on prime property.
– The government will identify land from its current holdings, which will be designated for affordable home ownership.
– In its amended version of Turnbull's fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget, the Senate appropriated, with Hansen's approval, half the revenues set aside for infrastructure for government employee raises.
In light of the continuing high crime rate in the territory, Hansen was incredulous that the governor isn't supporting what he sees as adequate street lighting.
"I'm very disgusted at this point," Hansen said. "They are getting ready to repeal the bill that makes it all work joining the infrastructure from where it is to the developments. I see them killing the home ownership dream without any remorse."
Over the years, Hansen said he has bombarded Turnbull with letters and phone calls to discuss his infrastructure bill, but the governor has never responded. "I've never seen such a malignant neglect of the need of the people in the territory."
At the St. Thomas housing fair, realtor Rosemary Sauter said there is no affordable housing on St. Thomas. (See Aspiring V. I. homeowners find opening doors .)
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said Tuesday that she had not seen Hansen's legislation, and she would have an open mind reviewing it. Gov. Turnbull said this month the government will begin publishing names of all delinquent property taxpayers in local newspapers including the Source.
After the time designated by law, the properties could be sold at auction to collect the outstanding taxes.
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