Members of the Virgin Islands Port Authority expressed concern over the state of the authority’s finances at their monthly board meeting on St. Croix Wednesday.
The financial report submitted to the board indicated that while VIPA’s expenses have remained fairly level, its revenues continue to decrease.
Of special concern was a 31-percent decrease in the year-to-date operating profit of the marine division compared to last year. The marine division is traditionally the most profitable area of VIPA’s operations.
“If that doesn’t knock anybody’s socks off, I don’t know why not,” said board member Gordon Finch. “I think we need to understand that the finances of the port authority are eroding at an alarming rate.”
The board voted unanimously to have Executive Director Carlton Dowe conduct a study identifying cost-savings measures and new potential sources of revenue.
One potential source or revenue discussed at the meeting was improving VIPA’s processes for making collections from delinquent accounts, especially those leasing property from the authority. Dowe said his staff was already working on this.
Board member Albert Bryan Jr. said he was more interested in finding ways to make currently idle properties into revenue generators.
“Maybe we need to switch from a position where we have property management to a position where we’re looking at property development,” he said.
Board member Manuel Gutierrez agreed with this sentiment, saying the authority owned numerous properties that were being underutilized or not utilized at all. He advocated creating a long-term financial stability plan that would integrate the development of those properties as part of a broader roadmap for moving the authority towards sound financial footing.
“We need to get a better grasp on it and plan five, 10 years down the line,” he said.
Finch endorsed the idea of a financial stability plan, but cautioned that this was an idea that is often discussed but never implemented.
“Are we serious about developing a financial stability plan?” he asked. “If so, let’s figure out when we’re going to meet.”
Finch said it would take more than just a committee meeting to craft the plan. He urged the board to call some kind of special meeting where the plan could receive everyone’s full attention.
Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. suggested the plan could be debated at the board’s retreat tentatively scheduled for June.
In other business, the board received an update on the Crown Bay dredging project.
The port authority received the dredge report from their consultants, the Maguire Group. Dowe said that while the report makes several recommendations for how to proceed with the project, he felt there were some questions left unanswered and did not feel the report was complete.
The board voted unanimously to approve a $101,099 contract with Maguire Group to have them handle the permitting process for the dredging project. Maguire will be required to perform the necessary tests and sampling of dredge material, and to procure all the required permits from Coastal Zone Management and the Army Corp of Engineers.
The board approved a second contract with Maguire worth $217,655 for them to conduct geotechnical drilling to determine the density of the rocks beneath Crown Bay.
During executive session, the board voted to hire a chief financial officer, though since that person had not yet been notified that he or she had been hired, the board declined to release the name.
The board also “gave new directions and allowance for the resolution of an arbitration with one of the unions.” The board refused to elaborate on what these directions might be or the nature of the dispute with the union.
In other business, all members voted unanimously to approve the following actions:
• Institute a $30 fee on all checks returned due to insufficient funds.
• Authorize a contract with ASE Caribbean to provide implementation, programming, training and support of business management software and hardware infrastructure at VIPA’s office. The contract caps total payment for the project at $130,000.
• Change the authority’s contract with Seslia and Company, raising the maximum the contractor can bill the authority per year from $200,000 to $300,000. Seslia and Company provides VIPA with financial consultation services.
• Authorize a contract worth $3.18 million to J. Benton Construction for installing new roofing at the Cyril E. King airport.
• Authorize a contract worth $113,760 to URS Caribe, LLP for professional services regarding the Cyril E. King airport reroofing project.
• Authorize a contract worth $29,100 to BioImpact, Inc to prepare CZM permit proposals for a project that will pave the cargo apron and restore some of the shoreline at the dock in Gallows Bay.
• Authorize a contract worth $144,327 to Virgin Islands Paving, Inc. to repave the apron at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center.
• Authorize a change order to the contract with J. Benton Construction to renovate the former Avis Car Rental office and the Henry E. Rohlsen airport to accommodate TSA office needs. The order adds $33,159 to the cost and is the result of requests made by the TSA for an upgrade to the internal security system.
Attending the meeting were board members O’Connor, Bryan, Finch, Gutierrez, Darryl Smalls and Beverly Nicholson-Doty.