On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee considered two bills proposed by the governor, holding both in committee for amendment. One would create a "Tax Collection Revolving Fund" automatically diverting 5 percent of property tax revenues to be used in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for training and buying supplies to help with tax collection.
The Office of the Tax Collector could raise more revenue for the government if it had more resources, and the measure was designed to increase those resources, Tax Collector Ludence Romney told the Finance Committee.
A legislative post audit found the bill would reduce funding to the General Fund by upwards of $2.5 million per year and take some budgetary authority away from the Legislature.
Romney agreed the amount of money was too large and said it could be amended to be 1 percent of property tax collected or capped at a particular sum. It could also be amended to let the Legislature approve the funding as part of the budgetary process.
There is an array of special funds created by the Legislature designed to ensure steady funding for various purposes, from capital projects for St. John to insuring insurance coverage in case a disaster renders one incapable of paying all of its obligations.
The Legislature has on many occasions made special appropriations from these funds to pay for various pet projects or to help balance the budget. For example, on Thursday the Finance Committee sent on a bill to appropriate $1 million from the Union Arbitration Award Fund to the General Fund of the V.I. Treasury. As a result, this method of setting aside funds does not entirely remove the Legislature from the equation.
The committee also discussed a measure to formally create an office of the public surveyor, housed within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. The lieutenant governor would be able to appoint or remove the public surveyor or surveyors under the terms of the bill.
Dolace McClean, legal counsel to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, said the bill would formalize the actual, current arrangement. The Cadastral office, which manages land maps, was housed in the Public Works Department at one time, then moved to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, McClean said.
“We are not sure how it got over to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor but it makes sense. It is the proper home for the Office of the Public Surveyor," she said.
Currently the law is silent on the organization of the Cadastral office, which has led to disputes over its authority, she said.
Senators expressed some concern over placing the agency in a political office and wondered if it would be better to make the office completely independent. McClean said the bill would codify what is already being done now.
Voting to hold both bills for amendment were Sens. Myron Jackson, Marvin Blyden, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach and Clifford Graham. Sen. Justin Harrigan was absent.