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Proposals Would Place Energy Office Under Governor, Create Central Government Offices

Nov. 9, 2007 — The Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Affairs took testimony on two bills Friday, one to authorize the Public Finance Authority to identify, negotiate and finance the purchase of real property for use as government-office complexes for St. Croix and on St. Thomas, and one moving the Energy Office from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to the Office of the Governor.
There was no vote because of a quorum was not reached.
The change would help focus government effort and attention on finding solutions to the territory's energy problems, argued Karl Knight, policy advisor to Gov. John deJongh Jr., and Bevan Smith, director of the Energy Office.
"The territory is in the midst of an energy crisis," Knight said. "We have all become victims of the failure of our territory to properly forecast the impact of changes in global energy prices and to adequately diversify our sources of energy. … The Virgin Islands must begin to do its share to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions and promote the use of non-polluting, renewable sources of energy."
The move would make the office more effective, Knight said.
"The scientists and technical experts at the Energy Office could benefit the territory immensely by directly engaging the governor concerning public-policy decisions on energy-related matters," Knight said. "As an extension of the governor's office, the Energy Office will hopefully receive an increased prominence in those discussions and debates."
Smith recited a history of projects, studies and recommendations the Energy Office has performed that wound up gathering dust. Having its studies and recommendations bear the imprimatur of the governor would likely cause agencies to pay more attention, he said.
"The current energy crisis requires that all aspects of energy receive the utmost attention of the territory's chief executive," Smith said. "Organizational placement in the Office of the Governor sends a message that energy matters are important. The governor can establish and influence territorywide policy and can affect change in industry and government sources and uses of energy. … The difference with relocating under the Office of the Governor is that the benefits derived from the VIEO programs will not just be research and studies for bookshelves. They will become mandates to implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy best practices throughout the entire government."
The office was previously moved to DPNR on the rationale that the functions were similar, but was now being returned to the Office of the Governor, Smith said. Senate President Usie Richards said he saw no advantage to the move.
"What you are saying," Richards said, "is if I'm the governor, I am incapable of telling DPNR to make this a priority? That is the question that still leaves me at a loss."
Richards said he opposed the change.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he agreed that placing the office directly under the governor at least might increase effectiveness.
"In terms of government efficiency, you may very well have an increase," he said. "I know how that works. If the governor's office calls and makes a request, they step up, because it's the governor's office. If a call comes from an office inside an agency, they say, 'Oh yeah, how is that? I'll get back to you later.'"
Nelson said he supported the move, but that it would not automatically improve effectiveness.
"The real question is the energy and focus the administration places on this issue," he said.
Regarding the bill to have the PFA purchase land and build a centralized government complex, Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin said such a complex would likely be very expensive in the short run, but save substantial sums in the long run by eliminating millions in government rent payments. Millin said the government spends about $9.5 million annually on rent for various offices, and more than $4 million a year on St. Croix alone.
While questioning aspects of how the bill is written, most of the senators said they supported the goal of a centralized government office complex. Sen. James Weber III said he would like to see proof the change would save money before signing on.
"I believe a thorough capital analysis is necessary," Weber said. "Mrs. Millin, do you know this will save us money?"
"In the long run, I think so," Millin said.
"You think, but you just don't know," Weber said. "We may build this and the economic impact may be detrimental, couldn't it?"
Millin said she believed it would likely save money, but said she did not have figures demonstrating it to be so.
Since there was no quorum, no vote was taken. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the committee chairman, said a short hearing would be scheduled next week for committee votes on the two bills, but that the testifiers would not have to return.
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Nov. 9, 2007 -- The Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Affairs took testimony on two bills Friday, one to authorize the Public Finance Authority to identify, negotiate and finance the purchase of real property for use as government-office complexes for St. Croix and on St. Thomas, and one moving the Energy Office from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to the Office of the Governor.
There was no vote because of a quorum was not reached.
The change would help focus government effort and attention on finding solutions to the territory's energy problems, argued Karl Knight, policy advisor to Gov. John deJongh Jr., and Bevan Smith, director of the Energy Office.
"The territory is in the midst of an energy crisis," Knight said. "We have all become victims of the failure of our territory to properly forecast the impact of changes in global energy prices and to adequately diversify our sources of energy. ... The Virgin Islands must begin to do its share to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions and promote the use of non-polluting, renewable sources of energy."
The move would make the office more effective, Knight said.
"The scientists and technical experts at the Energy Office could benefit the territory immensely by directly engaging the governor concerning public-policy decisions on energy-related matters," Knight said. "As an extension of the governor's office, the Energy Office will hopefully receive an increased prominence in those discussions and debates."
Smith recited a history of projects, studies and recommendations the Energy Office has performed that wound up gathering dust. Having its studies and recommendations bear the imprimatur of the governor would likely cause agencies to pay more attention, he said.
"The current energy crisis requires that all aspects of energy receive the utmost attention of the territory's chief executive," Smith said. "Organizational placement in the Office of the Governor sends a message that energy matters are important. The governor can establish and influence territorywide policy and can affect change in industry and government sources and uses of energy. ... The difference with relocating under the Office of the Governor is that the benefits derived from the VIEO programs will not just be research and studies for bookshelves. They will become mandates to implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy best practices throughout the entire government."
The office was previously moved to DPNR on the rationale that the functions were similar, but was now being returned to the Office of the Governor, Smith said. Senate President Usie Richards said he saw no advantage to the move.
"What you are saying," Richards said, "is if I'm the governor, I am incapable of telling DPNR to make this a priority? That is the question that still leaves me at a loss."
Richards said he opposed the change.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he agreed that placing the office directly under the governor at least might increase effectiveness.
"In terms of government efficiency, you may very well have an increase," he said. "I know how that works. If the governor's office calls and makes a request, they step up, because it's the governor's office. If a call comes from an office inside an agency, they say, 'Oh yeah, how is that? I'll get back to you later.'"
Nelson said he supported the move, but that it would not automatically improve effectiveness.
"The real question is the energy and focus the administration places on this issue," he said.
Regarding the bill to have the PFA purchase land and build a centralized government complex, Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin said such a complex would likely be very expensive in the short run, but save substantial sums in the long run by eliminating millions in government rent payments. Millin said the government spends about $9.5 million annually on rent for various offices, and more than $4 million a year on St. Croix alone.
While questioning aspects of how the bill is written, most of the senators said they supported the goal of a centralized government office complex. Sen. James Weber III said he would like to see proof the change would save money before signing on.
"I believe a thorough capital analysis is necessary," Weber said. "Mrs. Millin, do you know this will save us money?"
"In the long run, I think so," Millin said.
"You think, but you just don't know," Weber said. "We may build this and the economic impact may be detrimental, couldn't it?"
Millin said she believed it would likely save money, but said she did not have figures demonstrating it to be so.
Since there was no quorum, no vote was taken. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the committee chairman, said a short hearing would be scheduled next week for committee votes on the two bills, but that the testifiers would not have to return.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.