May 29, 2009 — With the government $188 million in the hole this fiscal year, it's the Senate's job to make sure there's enough money to pay the bills, senators said as they put their stamp of approval on an up to $200 million short-term financing proposal during Thursday's full session.
Dubbed the "borrowing bill," the proposal authorizes the governor to borrow the money from public fund accounts and if needed, turn to the banks for a line of credit or other form of short-term financing that would help provide the capital needed to cover operating costs. The government anticipates using both options — taking about $50 million in local funds and borrowing about $150 million from a bank or financial institution — to fill the hole, according to members of the governor's financial team.
A budget shortfall is also predicted for FY 2010, putting the possibility of payless paydays, employee layoffs and a cutback in the work week on the table if the government doesn't cut down on its expenses or get a large amount of cash to help make up the difference, officials recently explained. (See "Senate OKs Short-Term Plug For Money Gap.")
While calling for better belt-tightening during the budget markup process, most senators said they didn't want to take the chance and put employees' necks on the line by not passing the bill. Others, such as Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, said they would support the bill, but urged the government to do what it could to bring in the much-needed property tax revenues that weren't collected for three years because of the government's ongoing court case.
Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Nereida Rivera O'Reilly voted against the bill, saying they weren't convinced the government was doing all it could to cut back on expenses. Despite the current hiring freeze, employees are still being put on the government's payroll, Donastorg said.
Voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Wayne James, Malone, Usie R. Richards, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Michael Thurland, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
Senators also passed bills:
– consolidating the V.I. Office of Homeland Security, the soon-to-be-operational 911 call centers and the Office of Management and Budget's Public Assistance Grant Program under the coordination of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency. The Adjutant General of the V.I. National Guard, whose office has till now overseen VITEMA and advised the governor for Homeland Security, would instead focus on the National Guard's preparedness for overseas deployment and territorial emergency response.
– setting aside $250,000 from video lottery proceeds to fund a Youth Internship Program in the Department of Education. The money would fund a tax break for employers who hire students as part time apprentices;
– limiting the liability for community members who open their property up to the public for recreational purposes;
– adding two local retirees to the Health Insurance Board's advisory committee; and
– appropriating $37,000 to the Police Department for three ammunition and firearm-sniffing dogs.
Senators also approved bills rezoning:
-about .31 acres in Estate Adrian on St. John from R-1 (residential low density) to R-4 (residential medium density) to allow for the construction of a coin-laundry and internet café;
-about .24 acres in Estate Enighed on St. John from R-4 (residential medium density) to B-2 (business secondary) to allow for the existing building to be renovated into a grocery store and offices;
– almost three acres in Estate Susannaberg on St. John from R-1 (residential low density) to R-4 (residential medium density) to allow for the construction of six apartment buildings;
– land in Estate Donoe on St. Thomas from R-1 (residential low density) and R-2 (residential low density, one and two family) to R-4 (residential medium density) to allow lots in the Raphune Vistas housing community to be sold;
– a parcel of land in Red Hook from R-2 (residential low density) to C (commercial) to allow WR LLC to build an office building; and
– land in Estate Bonne Esperance on St. Croix from P (public) to R-2 (residential low density) to allow for the construction of affordable housing units.
A bill granting a use variance for a little more than two-acres on Constitutional Hill on St. Croix for the operation of a nail and beauty salon was also passed.
Senators also passed four leases between the government and:
– Arthur Hercules — doing business as Hercules Pate Delight — for a fast-food restaurant in Cruz Bay, St. John. The lease is for 10 years, with two five-year options to renew, at $446 per month or $5,355 a year;
– Cool Breeze Sightseeing Tours for a car/jeep rental in Cruz Bay, St. John. The lease is for 20 years at $692 a month, or $8,301 a year;
– Innovative Telephone for an 7,828 square-foot building on St. Croix. The lease is for 50 years, at $86,108 a year; and
– Peter Professional Body & Fender Repairs for a parcel in Subbase. The lease is for 20-years at $4,949 a year.
All senators were present during Thursday's session.
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