March 4, 2005 The Economic Development Commission voted to grant Innovative Telephone formerly Vitelco a renewal of its tax benefits Thursday evening. The decision did not sit well with two senators who had been pleading with commission members to deny the phone company the tax breaks.
Commission Chairman Dean Plaskett, who also serves as commissioner of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, said Friday that the EDC voted to grant Innovative the renewal Thursday.
"It was not a unanimous decision," Plaskett said, adding the vote was 3-1 with one member abstaining.
Plaskett would not reveal how he voted on the Innovative application, saying rather that the transcript of the meeting would soon be completed and the Source could get a copy if it so chose.
The five voting members attending the meeting Thursday night were: Randy Allen, Kent Bernier, Mary Ann Pickard, Plaskett and Louis Willis.
Bernier and Willis did not return calls in reference to the vote. Allen and Pickard could not be reached. Frank Schulterbrandt, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the EDC, did not return numerous calls from the Source either.
Plaskett said Innovative's application has not yet been sent to the governor for his approval, but will be sent after the board makes final decisions on several other applications before it.
Sen. Louis Hill said Friday he was upset to have learned of the EDC's decision. Hill along with Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg had previously expressed their indignation at the telephone company for applying for a renewal of its tax benefits, saying the breaks were not needed or warranted. (See " Phone Company Tax-Benefit Foes Gathering Strength ").
"I am opposed to it," Hill said of the EDC's decision. "And I will write the governor to express my opposition."
Donastorg expressed his "disgust" at the EDC's decision in a press release Friday.
"I am almost at a loss for words," Donastorg said. "This is unbelievable to me, especially given that so many of Vitelco's wrongdoings have become common knowledge in recent months . I am appalled to note that in light of the financial situation of this government, we can afford to grant such lavish tax breaks."
The details of Innovative's new tax package have not been made public; however, David Sharp, Innovative Telephone president, had told the PSC that the benefits in the renewal package had been reduced. (See "PSC Hears Apologies from Phone Company President").
Donastorg cited the telephone company's failure to comply with its previous benefits package and its activities in Belize as reasons why the renewal should not have been granted.
"As far as I'm concerned, any tax break is too much when it comes to Vitelco," Donastorg said. "I simply can't understand what the EDA was thinking, and I am calling on each member that voted in favor of this to resign his or her position."
He added, "This is an incredibly irresponsible move, and I can only think that there is some level of corruption taking place when such poor decisions are being made. This is a slap in the face to the taxpayers and ratepayers in the U.S. Virgin Islands."
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