87.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, August 8, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Learns Public Works Doesn't Hold Much Hope for Plugging Budget Gap

Senate Learns Public Works Doesn't Hold Much Hope for Plugging Budget Gap

The Senate Committee of the Whole eyed unspent capital funding for possible reallocation when it received testimony on the status of Public Works projects on St. Croix Friday, only to learn it wouldn’t help

A little of the money can be moved here and there, the senators learned, but much less than it appears and only to other construction or other capital projects, officials told the Senate, which is looking for painless ways to meet a $35 million budget shortfall.

Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson testified the entire territory has about $654 million in bond indebtedness for capital projects right now, and has spent about $607 million of the proceeds on those projects, with about $46 million unspent.

Of that sum, $317.2 million is allocated to projects on St. Croix, which were the subject of Friday’s hearing. About $295.6 million of that has been spent to date, with $21.6 million not yet expended.

Advertising (skip)
Advertising (skip)

Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls talked about the status of many of the individual projects which are overseen by his department.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens got to the point, asking "how much of that $21 million can be realistically reprogrammed?"

Smalls said he could not give an exact figure.

"It is not a large dollar amount, though. A lot of it has already been allocated to particular projects," he said.

Transferring too much money would mean important ongoing projects would be halted, he said. But he and Dawson said some funding can be moved around, where it can, to work on projects that can be done now and away from projects that are woefully underfunded anyway. Much of the discussion revolved around the status of several dozen projects – when work would begin on some and what few hundreds of thousands of dollars were unspent and potentially available to spend elsewhere.

"You’ll note the largest amount left for any agency is the Department of Education and there is a good reason for that," Dawson said. Education has $4.8 million unspent on St. Croix, but it is for major track and field projects at both public high schools. Both are important, major projects, said Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory. Smalls said both were delayed due to bids coming in much higher than funding, and revised scopes of work are being prepared now.

Senate Majority Leader Donald Cole asked Dawson to clarify whether the bonds are tax exempt and if that makes it harder to move funds from one purpose to another.

"Pretty much all of them" are tax exempt, Dawson said. Money can be shifted from, say roads to schools, "but you have to be careful about the tax status as you go or you can be declared in default on the bonds," Dawson said.

Cole said that even though the capital funding must be spent on capital projects, spending it sooner rather than later will still help government coffers, because the government takes gross receipts tax out of contractor payments as they are made.

Meanwhile, capital projects continue apace, if not sufficiently to overcome the territory’s economic doldrums.

Long awaited work on the La Reine Fish Market may begin soon, Smalls said. $640,000 is available, but bids came in higher than that, so the department is negotiating with a contractor and trying to move some money around, he said.

Public Works has issued a second request for proposals for a used vessel to run the St. Croix-St. Thomas ferry route, after receiving no response to the first request, he said.

Some 22 new VITRAN buses have been purchased and will arrive later this year, he said.

A request for proposals for a sports complex at Frederiksted’s Paul E. Joseph Stadium has been issued and, "I’m hoping an award will be issued some time soon,” Smalls said.

A long-awaited bike path on St. Croix’s east end is coming closer to fruition, with only a handful of properties with unfindable owners standing in the way, he said. The department is working on a mechanism to get the right of way and deed changes done when an owner cannot be found, and hopes to finish that soon, he said.

No votes were taken.

Present were Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sammuel Sanes, Donald Cole, Tregenza Roach, Clarence Payne III, Kenneth Gittens, Myron Jackson, Diane Capehart, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Judi Buckley and Craig Barshinger.

On Monday, the Committee of the Whole will meet on St. Thomas and discuss St. Thomas/St. John capital projects.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more

The Senate Committee of the Whole eyed unspent capital funding for possible reallocation when it received testimony on the status of Public Works projects on St. Croix Friday, only to learn it wouldn't help

A little of the money can be moved here and there, the senators learned, but much less than it appears and only to other construction or other capital projects, officials told the Senate, which is looking for painless ways to meet a $35 million budget shortfall.

Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson testified the entire territory has about $654 million in bond indebtedness for capital projects right now, and has spent about $607 million of the proceeds on those projects, with about $46 million unspent.

Of that sum, $317.2 million is allocated to projects on St. Croix, which were the subject of Friday's hearing. About $295.6 million of that has been spent to date, with $21.6 million not yet expended.

Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls talked about the status of many of the individual projects which are overseen by his department.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens got to the point, asking "how much of that $21 million can be realistically reprogrammed?"

Smalls said he could not give an exact figure.

"It is not a large dollar amount, though. A lot of it has already been allocated to particular projects," he said.

Transferring too much money would mean important ongoing projects would be halted, he said. But he and Dawson said some funding can be moved around, where it can, to work on projects that can be done now and away from projects that are woefully underfunded anyway. Much of the discussion revolved around the status of several dozen projects – when work would begin on some and what few hundreds of thousands of dollars were unspent and potentially available to spend elsewhere.

"You'll note the largest amount left for any agency is the Department of Education and there is a good reason for that," Dawson said. Education has $4.8 million unspent on St. Croix, but it is for major track and field projects at both public high schools. Both are important, major projects, said Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory. Smalls said both were delayed due to bids coming in much higher than funding, and revised scopes of work are being prepared now.

Senate Majority Leader Donald Cole asked Dawson to clarify whether the bonds are tax exempt and if that makes it harder to move funds from one purpose to another.

"Pretty much all of them" are tax exempt, Dawson said. Money can be shifted from, say roads to schools, "but you have to be careful about the tax status as you go or you can be declared in default on the bonds," Dawson said.

Cole said that even though the capital funding must be spent on capital projects, spending it sooner rather than later will still help government coffers, because the government takes gross receipts tax out of contractor payments as they are made.

Meanwhile, capital projects continue apace, if not sufficiently to overcome the territory's economic doldrums.

Long awaited work on the La Reine Fish Market may begin soon, Smalls said. $640,000 is available, but bids came in higher than that, so the department is negotiating with a contractor and trying to move some money around, he said.

Public Works has issued a second request for proposals for a used vessel to run the St. Croix-St. Thomas ferry route, after receiving no response to the first request, he said.

Some 22 new VITRAN buses have been purchased and will arrive later this year, he said.

A request for proposals for a sports complex at Frederiksted's Paul E. Joseph Stadium has been issued and, "I'm hoping an award will be issued some time soon,” Smalls said.

A long-awaited bike path on St. Croix's east end is coming closer to fruition, with only a handful of properties with unfindable owners standing in the way, he said. The department is working on a mechanism to get the right of way and deed changes done when an owner cannot be found, and hopes to finish that soon, he said.

No votes were taken.

Present were Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sammuel Sanes, Donald Cole, Tregenza Roach, Clarence Payne III, Kenneth Gittens, Myron Jackson, Diane Capehart, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Judi Buckley and Craig Barshinger.

On Monday, the Committee of the Whole will meet on St. Thomas and discuss St. Thomas/St. John capital projects.