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Budget Cuts Inflicting Damage to Carnivals, Casino Commission

The territory’s three seasonal festivals, its biggest tourist draws, are being forced to cut back on festivities and entertainment as they absorb back-to-back budget cuts, the volunteer festival committees told the Legislature during budget hearings Monday.

Later the Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Violet Ann Golden testified that short funding is slowing the commission down in setting up Internet gambling.

On St. Croix, the Christiansted Mini Village continues to draw big crowds, Crucian Festival Organization Chairwoman Melody Rames told the Finance Committee. But last year, “heavy rain forced several acts to be canceled and rescheduled," she said. "These challenges dealt a significant blow to our financial situation since funds were expended for talent that was never able to perform," she said.

Hurting their funding even more, the organization had already contracted with various vendors when it 2014 allotment was cut by more than $100,000, so it still owes some of those vendors, Rames said. With additional cuts for Fiscal Year 2015, "we are forced to consider suspending the Christiansted mini village" and replace it with a one-day food fair, she said.

On St. Thomas, revenues are declining with the economy, but interest in Carnival is still strong, according to V.I. Carnival Committee Director Caswil Callender.

"While we continue to witness a decrease in attendance at all paid events, most activities for which there is no entrance fee have been well attended," Callender said.

Appropriations have declined each of the last three years and allotments have declined even more, he said. In 2014, their appropriation was reduced to $580,000 and they were allotted $540,000. And for Fiscal Year 2015, the governor’s budget recommends an appropriation of $500,000.

"Further complicating our financial matters is the stealing of all of our electrical wiring by one or more selfish individuals," Callender said. The committee is requesting $700,000 – a full $200,000 more than in the governor’s budget.

Callender said Carnival generates a minimum of $65 million in economic activity. "In reality,” he said, “we are assisting the government by providing the productions which serve to attract tourists. With a tourism-based economy, it is difficult to understand the reluctance to adequately fund the number one proven annual tourist attraction in the territory."

As senators questioned officials, they found that some festival committees were being charged for permits and other fees, while others were not.

“I’m going to suggest that all three festivals get together and hold a meeting with Tourism, VIPD, Department of Health, Public Works, Waste Management Authority and so on, so that at the end of the day when you leave there is a fair system across all three,” said Sen. Clifford Graham, chairman of the Finance Committee. “I don’t understand how one government could charge one one way and another one is exempt,” he said, adding, “It’s ridiculous.”

According to the 30th Legislature’s Post Audit Analysis, the governor has recommended a General Fund appropriation of $280,000 in miscellaneous funds for the V.I. Carnival Committee. They are also slated to receive $300,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund for a total appropriation of $580,000.

For the Crucian Christmas Festival, the governor has recommended a General Fund appropriation of $280,000 in addition to $275,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund for a total appropriation of $555,000.

And for the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization, the governor has recommended a General Fund appropriation of $280,000 from the Miscellaneous Fund and $75,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund for a total appropriation of $355,000.

Later the chairwoman of the Casino Control Commission shared the commission’s 2015 budget, which includes a recommendation $806,881 from the miscellaneous section of the General Fund. The commission did not receive its full allotment from the Tourism Revolving Fund for the previous fiscal year, Golden said, stressing its finances and delaying its work to implement Internet gambling in the territory.

No votes were taken during the information gathering budget hearing. Committee members present included Graham, Sens. Donald Cole, Myron Jackson, Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly.

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