Vandalism of the territory's public parks and recreational facilities are costing V.I. taxpayers upwards of $50,000 per year, and with budget cuts, Housing, Parks and Recreation will prioritize spending where users respect the facilities, department officials said during budget hearings in Frederiksted on Wednesday.
“During the fiscal year, we have found ourselves responding to address repairs caused by vandalism at various facilities, particularly in the district of St. Croix," testified Stanley Smith, assistant commissioner of Housing, Parks and Recreation, who read the department's prepared budget testimony in the place of Commissioner St. Claire Williams, who was unable to attend due to a medical emergency.
"Our LBJ gardens main office was broken into about three times. Air-conditioning units at the D.C. Canegata multipurpose recreation center and the recreation office were destroyed, and broken light fixtures and electrical problems are occurring at the Verne Richards Veterans Memorial Park at the Frederiksted waterfront, just to name a few," Smith said. "Also on St. Thomas, we are experiencing vandalism of the light fixtures at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Virgin Islands Veterans Memorial Park."
One of the air-conditioning units at D.C. Canegata wound up costing $10,000 to replace, Smith said.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes said he found the reports alarming and reiterated concerns he raised about vandalism during budget hearings last year. "I find it ridiculous people are coming there and stealing light bulbs and, if they can’t steal, breaking them. I even heard about a toilet being stolen. Is that true?"
Assistant Commissioner Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion avowed it was true.
"One of our major issues on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John is we can upgrade our facilities, but when we do, 90 percent of our funding goes to simply go back and rebuild – not upgrade or improve," Encarnacion said.
Smith agreed and said at some point, residents have to take some responsibility for their own facilities.
“Some facilities we have been repairing over and over, and we need to make tough decisions about the money we have," Smith said. "If some communities don't want to take care, funding is so short we will take care of the facilities the neighborhoods are willing to take care of, and get to the ones that are not taken care of when we can,” he said.
Sen. Celestino White asked how much vandalism costs the department annually and Smith gave a rough estimate of $50,000.
Smith presented the department's Fiscal Year 2013 General Fund budget of $6 million, a $744,000 or 11.1 percent decrease from 2012 levels. Of that, $5 million or 83.4 percent is for wages, salaries and benefits. The remaining $987,000 or 16.6 percent covers all other operating expenses, with $669,000 of that devoted to utilities, the catch-all category of “other services and charges” another $217,000 and supplies the remaining $101,000.
Parks and Recreation also has $1.7 million budgeted under the miscellaneous section of the governor's 2013 budget. Of that, “only $795,000 or 46.3 percent is directly attributable to the programs or the operations of the Department of Housing Parks and Recreation," Smith said. The remainder is distributed through Housing, Parks and Recreation, with $300,000 to the V.I. Olympic Committee and smaller sums to youth sports programs, and an array of local organizations from the territory's American Legion posts to the Pistarkle Theater.
The department also receives $50,000 per year in federal Land, Water and Conservation Fund monies devoted to upgrading parks and recreational facilities.
Parks and Recreation also manages roughly $500,000 in annual rental fees and other charges for use of its facilities. And it gets small quarterly allotments from the Casino Revenue Fund for youth programs.
No votes were taken at the budget oversight hearing. Committee members present were Sanes, Chairman Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Sens. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly and Celestino White Jr. Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, who is not a member of the Finance Committee, was present as well. Absent were Sens. Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone and Janette Millin-Young.