A five-year moratorium on new bar licenses in the St. Croix towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted and Savan in St. Thomas will be extended five more years and expanded to cover Contant and Frenchtown, should a bill voted out of committee Wednesday become law.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Shawn-Michael Malone, initially removed reference to Frederiksted and Christiansted, allowing that five year-old moratorium to expire, but at the urging of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs, Sen. Janette Millin-Young offered an amendment extending the existing moratorium, too.
"The current moratorium has been successful in stymieing the proliferation of tavern keepers in the identified areas," Biggs testified in support of the bill at Wednesday’s hearing of the Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture Committee.
It also helps DLCA enforce the territory’s noise ordinance, he said. Extending it to other towns "will encourage the diversification of businesses in the designated areas" and "may be a catalyst for revitalization of these areas," he said.
Sen. Usie Richards and others questioned Biggs on whether businesses were able to get around the ban, or if new owners could use the previous owner’s license. Biggs said the licenses did not transfer to new owners.
"What can you point to as a success in this measure?" Richards asked.
In response, Biggs said that several establishments tried to move licenses to new owners but have not been allowed, and others were persuaded to change their business model.
"There were two instances in Frederiksted in particular, where we required these establishments to expand into restaurant facilities also," Biggs said.
Voting for the bill as amended were Malone, Sens. Patrick Hill, Patrick Sprauve and Janette Millin-Young. Absent were Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Neville James and Terrence "Positive" Nelson. Richards was present but is not a committee member.
The committee also sent on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration a bill sponsored by Sen. Ronald Russell that would exempt farmers from gross receipts taxes on their goods, rebate 90 percent of any income tax paid on agricultural income and give them a variety of smaller exemptions.
Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Luther Renee testified the department supports the measure, and any measures to bolster agriculture in the territory, but said parts of the bill may duplicate existing law.
"Previous legislation already exempts farmers from trade or excise taxes on building materials, supplies, equipment etc.," said Renee. "Farmers also receive a 95-percent farmland tax exemption, a 90-percent income tax exemption on revenues derived from agriculture … Farmers are also exempted from gross receipt taxes on sales on products derived from his agricultural activities."
Also approved by the committee were:
— a bill sponsored by Sen. Usie Richards making it illegal to import gaming machines into the territory without Casino Control Commission or V.I. Lottery authorization and setting a maximum fine of $25,000; and
— a bill sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes requiring casino developers to market the territory as a destination, as a condition of their license.
All bills approved Wednesday will now be considered by the Rules and Judiciary Committee, and if successful there, will then be considered by the full Senate for a final vote.