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Senate Bill Would Give WAPA More Money

Aug. 22, 2008 — Changes made by senators to a comprehensive funding bill the governor submitted about two months ago include more money needed to get the V.I. Water and Power Authority onto stable financial ground.
The bill is intended to fund the critical needs of various departments, agencies and organizations, and draws from appropriations approved by the Legislature as far back as 2001. In most cases, only a portion of funding was allotted, leaving the undistributed money available until expended. The authorization needed to use the remaining funds will be shifted from the previous year's appropriations to any new expenditures included in the bill, government officials explained during a Committee of the Whole hearing held earlier this week.
The original version of the bill earmarked about $13.7 million for WAPA — $8.7 million to cover a portion of the government's unpaid utility bills, and another $5 million to increase the budgets of various government departments and agencies in an attempt to keep them up to date with their fiscal year 2008 electricity costs. Since the bill's figures took into account information provided by the authority last December, government officials said this week that they will have to sit down with the authority once the bill is passed to determine exactly where the money will go.
Senators kept the ball in their court Friday, and amended the bill to outline clearly what the funding — which was increased to approximately $17.4 million — would go toward.
"There is more money in here for WAPA — it falls just short of the $100,000 or $200,000 more it needs to take care of all the outstanding receiveables for the central government," Sen. James A. Weber III explained during Friday's full legislative session. "And we didn't do this willy-nilly, either. We got the authority involved, sat down with them to figure out the numbers."
Senators also reduced to $1 million appropriation of about $2.6 million to the Bureau of Information to set up the territory's new E-911 system.
Other sections of the bill were deleted during the amendment process because several of the appropriations had already been sponsored by senators and are currently in the process of getting drafted into bills. (See "Senators: We'll Make the Call About Spending Priorities.")
Toward the end of the session, senators voted to override three gubernatorial vetoes on amendments that:
— prevent amphibian commercial boats, water taxis or water-tour operators from applying for Economic Development Commission tax benefits. (See "Governor Approves Economic Development Proposal, Trims Appropriations.");
— appropriate $70,408 to cover payments owed by the Department of Education to Silcott Corp. Enterprises; and
— appropriate $25,000 from the General Fund to Los Nuevos Rancheros for the annual Three Kings Celebration and Children's Parade.
A bill that provides about $1.8 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to various government departments and local organizations was also approved, along with related amendments that reduce:
— an appropriation to the Family Resource Center facility rehabilitation project by $10,000;
— an appropriation to the Enterprise Zone Commission's Paint, Scrape and Rejuvenate program by nearly $35,000; and
— an appropriation to the Agriculture Department to revamp the Bordeaux Farmer's Market by $20,000. The amendments also added a $45,000 appropriation to Hearts in Service to fund plans and specs for transitional housing facility and $20,00 to the Missions Training and After School Program. (See "Block Grant Program Bouncing Back.")
Senators also approved the nominations of Ilene P. Garner and Ronnie E. Jones to the V.I. Board of Vocational Education (St. Thomas); Richard A. Difede, Quincy G. Lewis and Daniel P. McIntosh to the V.I. Board of Vocational Education (St. Croix); Donald Sussman to the UVI Board of Trustees; and George H. Moore to the V.I. Public Television's Board of Directors.
Bills and resolutions approved during Friday's session:
— appropriate $100,000 to the V.I. Police Department, V.I. Fire Services and Emergency Medical Services to repair and use the former Alexander I. Wilson Elementary School on St. Croix as a public-safety substation;
— increasing the monthly gross-receipts tax exemption for businesses pulling in less than $225,000 in annual gross income;
— authorize the government to trade six acres of land in Sion Hill for six acres in Estate Rattan to serve as a buffer between the nonprofit The Village/Partners in Recovery alcohol and drug rehabilitation center and a neighboring housing development;
— appropriate $476,006 to pay Central Air for long-past-due bills on air-conditioning repairs at numerous public schools, government agencies, divisions, authorities and governing boards;
— provide incentives for developers interested in revitalizing and cleaning up contaminated properties;
— rezone 13 acres of land in Estate Orange Grove on St. Croix from R-3 (residential-medium density) to B-2 (business-secondary neighborhood) to allow for the construction of an 800-dwelling planned community and town center;
— rezone a 0.9-acre parcel in Estate Mount Welcome on St. Croix from W-2 (waterfront industrial) to B-2. (See "Senate Hears Rezoning Requests for 2 Projects.");
— honoring and conferring the V.I. Medal of Honor to Peter Holmberg for his outstanding contribution to the development of sailing as a sport in the community; and
— honoring and commending the St. Thomas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for 20 years of service to the V.I. community.
Present during Friday's session were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Basil Ottley Jr., Usie R. Richards, Ronald E. Russell, Weber, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
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