The Department of Public Works can get more done with less money by doing more jobs in-house, acting Public Works Commissioner Gustav James said during his nomination hearing Monday.
Asked if his department had an adequate budget, James said more money would be useful. "However, I feel our budget was not being fully utilized when I arrived," he said. The department can save money on some small- to medium-sized projects by doing them in-house instead of automatically contracting them out. James said.
Going forward, large jobs will still be contracted out, he said. "We don’t have the equipment and staff to handle the larger jobs. However, we can handled the smaller jobs and by handling those we can respond much quicker and more efficiently than going through the whole contracting process."
Asked about the St. Croix-St. Thomas ferry route, James said there is no ferry yet but that the department is beginning to put together federal funds to buy a vessel to run the route. The territory has $1.1 million in federal funds for a ferry now, he said, and may be able to access more. The ferry has not operated that route since a 2011 grounding damaged the vessel. (See Related Links below)
On the St. Thomas-St. John ferry, currently resident adults pay $6 each way between Red Hook and Cruz Bay while nonresident adults or tourists pay $7. James said that the rates that nonresidents pay can be increased to $10 without harming ridership or customer satisfaction. Public Works will put the idea to the V.I. Public Service Commission in the near future, James added.
James, an engineer, is owner of James Special Spaces Inc. on St. Croix and a talk radio host.
The committee voted without opposition to send James’ nomination of Public Works commissioner on for a final vote before the full Legislature later this week. Sen. Neville James was absent at the time of the vote but was present later in the day.
Rules also sent on the nomination of Lawrence Olive to head the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, with six senators voting yes and Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly voting no.
The Rules Committee sent out legislation giving extensive new tax credits for film and video production in the territory. And it sent out legislation appropriating $1 million for litigation against the owners of the shuttered Hovensa refinery over an environmental settlement and unpaid taxes. (See Related Links below)
Both bills were sent out of committee unanimously.