V.I. Carnival, which starts next week on St. Thomas, will forego fireworks and cut back on entertainment this year, due to the government’s budget shortfall, which has grown to $145 million for the year, officials told the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation on Friday.
The V.I. Carnival Committee has received $400,000 out of $545,000 appropriated for the year, Carnival Committee Chair Kenneth Blake testified. While the committee’s executive director has been trying to secure sponsorships to try to bridge the shortfall, "because of the shortfall in funding we are going to have to eliminate certain activities," such as fireworks, he said.
According to Blake, they will also consolidate the V.I. Calypso Competition and Calypso Revue and cut back on the number of outside artists at the Calypso Revue.
"We are still in the process of reviewing our program to see what other show or program we would have to cut from our schedule," he said.
Deputy Director of Management and Budget Debra Gottlieb testified the allotment was cut "due to the current state of the territory’s finances."
"Presently the general fund is reflecting a projected deficit of $144.5 million for Fiscal Year 2015," Gottlieb said. Appropriations "substantially" exceed revenues, she said. "Thus it is not prudent to continue to allot more than the projected revenue collections,” citing that as the specific reason OMB has not allotted the remainder of the St. Thomas Carnival Committee’s appropriation.
“Instead we believe that the territory’s leadership should collectively focus, as was discussed at this week’s revenue estimating conference, on expanding the territory’s revenue base and enhancing the territory’s revenue collection efforts," Gottlieb said.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson suggested representatives from the Carnival Committee solicit businesses for the difference in funding. Others suggested that the Carnival Committee hold fundraisers, an effort that Blake said had been tried and failed in the past.
The committee also received an update from officials regarding the state of Government House and its historical collections.
Felipe Ayala Jr. testified about work he did as a volunteer during the administration of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull as a curator for both Government House and, to lesser extent, Estate Catherineberg. Ayala said many historic artifacts are mishandled due to a lack of knowledge and/or irreverence for their historical significance.
“As a community we must appreciate and cherish the significant cultural and historic landmarks and collections which are the birthright of all Virgin Islanders,” he said. “We all hear the sincere pronouncements as to the importance of cultural tourism, but we always seem at a loss as to how to begin with the gems we already have in our possession.”
Senators agreed with Ayala though some expressed frustration with the lack of accountability from government agencies.
Derek Gabriel, deputy commissioner of Property and Printing at the Department of Property and Procurement, said that though he understood their frustration, those duties were outside of the department’s jurisdiction.
“The Department of Property and Procurement does not maintain care and custody or an inventory of the historic collections, furnishings and art. Simply put, the department’s only involvement in such artifacts is for insurance coverage as contents in the buildings in which they are housed.”
Gabriel said that he would offer help. “The department is willing to assist by assigning identifying artifacts to the appropriate agency’s inventory, making sure said artifacts are covered under the governments insurance schedule of values and are present and accounted for during our biannual inventory inspections.”
The committee heard testimony on a resolution petitioning the governor to join with the Legislature in developing a comprehensive program with the focus on education and awareness of contributions of people of African descent throughout the Caribbean. The goal is to have the territory participate in a United Nations plan of action and other activities for the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2025.
Jackson recessed the meeting until April 16, when the committee discussion will continue on St. Croix.
Committee members present Jackson, Nelson, Sens. Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis Jr., Kenneth Gittens and Tregenza Roach. Noncommittee members Sens. Justin Harrigan and Janette Millin Young were also present.