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Senate Questions Christmas Festival Finances

July 21, 2005 – Officers of the St. Croix Crucian Christmas Festival board came to the Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix on Thursday promising openness.
Treasurer Richard J. Nicks told members of the Finance Committee, "The St. Croix Crucian Christmas Festival organization views the funds received from the government and the private sector as trust funds, and therefore the committee will answer all inquiries from the body."
However, it soon became evident that Nicks and festival President Lenise Hunt could not answer all of the senators' questions, and that some of their answers did not please the senators.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said, "'Positive' isn't going to be part of stopping the carnival, but what we see here is not good."
The cash figures of previous debts initially brought out senators' concerns.
Norman Jn Baptiste, committee chairman, questioned why in Hunt's report she said all debts previous to last year's carnival were paid off, but there was an item listed under expenses for $57,000 in shortfalls for 2003 -2005.
Nicks said that was a typo.
However, Sen. Usie Richards followed up on that line of questioning and asked Nicks why there was a $30,000 item in his report for parade prizes and also an item for $64,000 to pay for debts. Hunt, in her testimony, said there had been a debt of $22,000 in parade prizes. Richards said, "I don't want to use the word confused, but what is being presented is confusing."
After consultation, Hunt and Nicks told the senators to just void the $30,000 item in Nicks' report. However, it did appear that Hunt was referring to a debt from the 2003-2004 festival, and Nicks was referring to one from the 2004-2005 festival.
Another concern of the senators was the filing of annual reports with the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation. Hunt, who has presided over two festivals as president, said she had not been aware of the need for the reports, and the organization was now working on filing one for the 2003-2004 festival.
Richards said, "We now know where the problem is – Ira Hobson (Department of Housing commissioner). There should not be new funds released when last year's have not been accounted for."
Hunt asked that the government consider giving the festival $571,750.
Baptiste pointed out that this was twice the amount the festival organization received from the government last year.
Hunt said the organization received $225,000 from the V.I. government last year, although it had asked for $450,000. She added the organization received $24,000 in private donations and earned $45,000 from entrance fees and fees from vendors.
Sen. Neville James said, "We are talking about money here." He added up the revenues and contributions the festival generated last year, then took into account the amount it remained in debt, and came up with a figure of $350,000. He said, "That is the figure we should be talking about."
Baptiste directed Hunt and Nicks to supply the committee a breakdown on what it owes and to whom. He also asked for more detail about a $12,000 item identified as "miscellaneous expenses."
When questioned by James, Hunt indicated that the festival will be held for the third year in a row in Frederiksted. The festival used to alternate between Christiansted and Frederiksted. Last year it was there reportedly because the Times Square renovation project and the recreation building at Canegata Park were not complete. Both projects are now complete.

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