Feb. 20, 2007– Senators moved quickly through their agenda on Tuesday, unanimously approving four lease agreements during the Legislature's first Finance Committee meeting of the year. The leases now go on to the full Senate body for further consideration and a final vote.
While most senators had few concerns about three of the agreements up for consideration, they did question a lease executed between the Department of Property and Procurement and the Waste Management Authority for a warehouse structure in Estate Nisky on St. Thomas.
WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said the acquisition of the building would allow the authority to streamline its operations, improve efficiency and provide an outlet for training new employees. "Current personnel on St. Thomas are housed at four different locations," she explained. "This long-term lease will allow Waste Management to consolidate our St. Thomas operations, maintenance, management and support staff in one central location."
Since the property has long been "neglected and in need of improvement," the authority is working on securing $1.7 million worth of financing from the Public Finance Authority to spruce up the building, Cornwall said.
During the construction period, the authority will be paying a reduced rental fee of $625 per month for 12 months. However, after the improvements are complete, rent will increase to $1,250 a month, she added.
Senators said they were concerned about whether the authority would be able to obtain financing from the PFA. They were also disturbed when Cornwall outlined her "backup plan," which hinges upon the Legislature's approval of WMA's upcoming budget request.
Cornwall assured senators that the authority would be pursuing other options — such as obtaining a line of credit from a local bank — should the PFA or General Fund money not come through. "We have also sent correspondence to the governor, gone through the proposal with him and received a favorable response," she said.
Most senators had few questions for other testifiers on Tuesday. However, Sen. Carmen Wesselhoft said she was concerned about the length of a lease agreement executed between the government and Delbert Hill Taxi and Jeep Rental Inc. for space on St. John.
"The lease is for 40 years — that's a long time," she said. "And land is scarce on St. John. There are so many needs and people who need the space."
Acting Commissioner of Property and Procurement Lynn Millin explained that short-term leases "stifle tenants from progressing business-wise."
"The tenants' biggest concern with the government is that with short-term leases, they were unable to do anything to improve their properties," she said. "They said that banks or other lending institutions require that the tenant has at least 30-years interest in the property before they give them a loan or any money for improvements."
Wesselhoft said that the St. John community "is outraged" by the terms of the agreement and suggested that senators or the department reduce the duration of the lease.
While discussing the proposed agreements, senators also suggested Property and Procurement begin cataloging the government's various properties and be more aggressive in dealing with delinquent tenants.
"The one thing that we have all been saying throughout this meeting is that there is government property out there that we don't know about," said Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, chairman of the Finance Committee. "And we could be using that land for other things."
Millin said the department has already put together a task force and is in the process of filtering through documents at the Recorder of Deeds, a division within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Comprehensive site plans are also being created for areas such as Estate Bovoni, she added.
A new electronic system has also made it easier for Property and Procurement to track delinquent tenants, Millin said.
"We have also been able to fine and ticket the tenants for not maintaining the premises according to the conditions of the lease," she said in response to questions raised by Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe about the appearance of some of the properties.
Leases approved on Tuesday are between the government and:
–the Virgin Islands Council Inc. (the Boy Scouts of America); the lease is for 1.87 acres on St. Croix at a rate of $300 per year;
–Hazely Jackson, dba Jackson's Crane Service Plus; the lease is for a 10,000-square-foot parcel in Sub Base on St. Thomas at a rate of $16,408 per year;
–Delbert Hill Taxi and Jeep Rental Inc.; the lease is for a 15,700-square-foot parcel of land on St. John at a rate of $43,172 per year; and
–the V.I. Waste Management Authority; the lease is for 31,000-square-foot parcel in Estate Nisky on St. Thomas at a rate of $15,000 per year.
Present during Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Ronald E. Russell, James Weber III and Nelson.
Sens. Louis P. Hill and Wesselhoft, both noncommittee members, were also present.
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