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New Legislature Building Opens with Town Hall Meeting

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly (right) chats with St. John resident Nydia Lewis.St. John’s new Legislature building officially opened Friday with song, prayer and a town meeting that brought out about 100 people to see the new building, enjoy the buffet and have their say on myriad issues.

Delia Thomas kicked off the questioning by members of the community.

“At the property tax auction, one buyer obtained all the properties,” she said, adding that she worried about the impact on the community. Six St. Thomas properties and one on St. John were auctioned off by the Lieutenant Governor’s office on Jan. 25 for non-payment of property taxes.

Later, Myrtle Barry said that 17.7 acres at San Souci and Guinea Gut on St. John owned by the heirs of H. and J. Thomas went for $320,000. The heirs owed $187,939 in back taxes and penalties.

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“I can clearly see the face of St. John is going to change forever,” Barry, who attended the auction, said.

She said that if the senators are concerned about “heritage,” they should pass legislation that would allow the heirs who pay the taxes to get clear title to the property. As things now stand, particularly on St. John, some properties have many, many heirs because the properties are passed down through the generations without being divided. In some cases, just a few of those heirs paid taxes on property owned by many.

“It’s rather critical. The parties are land-rich and cash poor,” Barry said.

Probate is another problem, and Barry said on some properties, it takes 20 years to resolve the matter.

St. John Community Foundation Director Celia Kalousek urged the senators to pass legislation giving St. John Dial-A-Ride, which the organization runs, the $56,000 it needs to operate until the start of the next fiscal year.

Katherine Ellis, who said she owns a rental property on St. John and spends three months a year on St. John and the rest in Lansing, Mich., suggested the senators privatize the V.I. Water and Power Authority. She also urged them to raise the gross receipts tax as Gov. John deJongh Jr. requested so the government can borrow money.

Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson said he was opposed to selling WAPA. And the proposed gross receipts tax increase didn’t sit well with him and another senator.

“It will increase the cost of living for people who are potentially going to lose their jobs,” Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said.

Rivera-O’Reilly and Nelson were joined at the opening by Sen. Ronald Russell, who presided over the town meeting, Sen. Louis P. Hill, Sen. Craig Barshinger, and Sen. Janette Millin Young. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve didn’t make the opening ceremony but were there in time for the meeting.

Efforts to find out what the build-out of the new Legislature building cost, the rent and the length of the lease were unsuccessful. Hill, who as the previous Senate president initiated the move from the old Legislature building because it had flooding and mold problems, referred questions to the current president, Russell. He said he didn’t have the answers and passed reporters on to the executive director, Pamela Samuel. She didn’t have them with her and said to call Monday.

The building is leased from former Sen. Robert O’Connor Jr., who also owned the old building.

Russell spoke at length about how the “wonderful chamber” would “open the door to democracy and the voice of the people on St. John.”

“St. John has an equal opportunity to participate,” he said.

While the senators have a new and attractive space to conduct their business, the lower level community meeting space is not finished, Barshinger said. He suggested that it may turn out that the community gets to use the chambers for their meetings.

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Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly (right) chats with St. John resident Nydia Lewis.St. John’s new Legislature building officially opened Friday with song, prayer and a town meeting that brought out about 100 people to see the new building, enjoy the buffet and have their say on myriad issues.

Delia Thomas kicked off the questioning by members of the community.

“At the property tax auction, one buyer obtained all the properties,” she said, adding that she worried about the impact on the community. Six St. Thomas properties and one on St. John were auctioned off by the Lieutenant Governor’s office on Jan. 25 for non-payment of property taxes.

Later, Myrtle Barry said that 17.7 acres at San Souci and Guinea Gut on St. John owned by the heirs of H. and J. Thomas went for $320,000. The heirs owed $187,939 in back taxes and penalties.

“I can clearly see the face of St. John is going to change forever,” Barry, who attended the auction, said.

She said that if the senators are concerned about “heritage,” they should pass legislation that would allow the heirs who pay the taxes to get clear title to the property. As things now stand, particularly on St. John, some properties have many, many heirs because the properties are passed down through the generations without being divided. In some cases, just a few of those heirs paid taxes on property owned by many.

“It’s rather critical. The parties are land-rich and cash poor,” Barry said.

Probate is another problem, and Barry said on some properties, it takes 20 years to resolve the matter.

St. John Community Foundation Director Celia Kalousek urged the senators to pass legislation giving St. John Dial-A-Ride, which the organization runs, the $56,000 it needs to operate until the start of the next fiscal year.

Katherine Ellis, who said she owns a rental property on St. John and spends three months a year on St. John and the rest in Lansing, Mich., suggested the senators privatize the V.I. Water and Power Authority. She also urged them to raise the gross receipts tax as Gov. John deJongh Jr. requested so the government can borrow money.

Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson said he was opposed to selling WAPA. And the proposed gross receipts tax increase didn’t sit well with him and another senator.

“It will increase the cost of living for people who are potentially going to lose their jobs,” Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly said.

Rivera-O’Reilly and Nelson were joined at the opening by Sen. Ronald Russell, who presided over the town meeting, Sen. Louis P. Hill, Sen. Craig Barshinger, and Sen. Janette Millin Young. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve didn’t make the opening ceremony but were there in time for the meeting.

Efforts to find out what the build-out of the new Legislature building cost, the rent and the length of the lease were unsuccessful. Hill, who as the previous Senate president initiated the move from the old Legislature building because it had flooding and mold problems, referred questions to the current president, Russell. He said he didn’t have the answers and passed reporters on to the executive director, Pamela Samuel. She didn’t have them with her and said to call Monday.

The building is leased from former Sen. Robert O’Connor Jr., who also owned the old building.

Russell spoke at length about how the “wonderful chamber” would “open the door to democracy and the voice of the people on St. John.”

“St. John has an equal opportunity to participate,” he said.

While the senators have a new and attractive space to conduct their business, the lower level community meeting space is not finished, Barshinger said. He suggested that it may turn out that the community gets to use the chambers for their meetings.