The Finance Committee acted on two bonding bills; one would permit the government to seek up to $35 million through the sale of government bonds secured by either gross receipts tax revenues or by remitted federal excise taxes from the territory's rum production, whichever provides a better rate.
The money is earmarked to pay for energy conservation installations at 23 Education Department facilities and the territory’s hospitals. The improvements should pay for themselves in a few years and then save substantial sums every year, according to Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls.
The other bill initially sought to authorize $27.5 million in new bond debt for new police cars and an array of unfunded but shovel-ready capital projects. An amendment proposed by Sen. Sammuel Sanes increased that total to $30.8 million, adding several St. Croix projects to the list.
The V.I. Police Department will receive about $7 million to purchase new police vehicles. Police Commissioner Henry White testified the entire 162 vehicle fleet dates to 2005, is near the end of its useful life and must be replaced. The plan is to replace 58 vehicles in each of the first two years, then replace the rest in the third year, he said.
"No vehicle will be assigned to administrative staff," White said.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls outlined the individual projects and their projected remaining costs, which are:
- $4.5 million for phase II and III of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School track on St. Thomas;
- $1.5 million for the Charlotte Amalie High School track on St. Thomas;
- $2.2 million to complete the Education Complex track on St. Croix;
- $1.8 million to complete the Central High School track on St. Croix;
- $2 million for repairs to Fort Christian;
- $2 million to the Tutu Park library project;
- and $1.5 million for reconstruction of the Public Works garage in Sub Base, St. Thomas.
The amendment from Sanes added:
- $2.5 million toward construction of a permanent building for the annual Crucian Christmas Festival;
- $600,000 for Monbijou Park bathroom repairs or installation;
- $150,000 for repairs to the Rudy Krieger Ball Park in Sion Farm;
- and $40,000 for bleachers in the Pedro Cruz Ball Park in Estate Profit.
Another $5 million will go to the V.I. Waste Management Authority to help defray the costs of closing St. Croix's Anguilla landfill, which WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said would ultimately cost more than $30 million. The funds would pay for drilling and other work to help prepare the landfill for natural gas collection, among other initial costs, Cornwall said.
The bill also authorizes the government to seek up to $32.2 million in bond debt for long-term financing of the local share of major broadband projects being financed by federal grants. The funding would replace an existing bank loan with a lower-interest government bond and so does not represent new debt but the replacement of high interest debt with lower interest debt.
Both bills were sent on for further consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee in October. The Rules and Judiciary Committee will be considering the 2013 budget bills Friday.
Voting in favor of each bill were Sanes, Louis Patrick Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Janette Millin-Young, Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Celestino White. Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly was absent.
Both bills were initially introduced during legislative session in August and rather than special order the bills onto the session agenda, senators voted to send them to the Finance Committee for further consideration.
This funding is above and beyond $130 million in bond financing the Legislature previously approved, which the administration recently closed on.
The committee also approved a lease agreement with Petru Gas Corporation in Subbase, St. Thomas, consisting of 4,850 square feet to develop an above-ground gasoline storage site with two 20,000 gallon storage tanks.
After months of nearly daily budget hearings, the Finance Committee took its first votes on budget bills Thursday, sending a slew of budget bills covering every central government agency and semi-autonomous government bodies from the University of the Virgin Islands to the V.I. Water and Power Authority out of committee for consideration Friday by the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Final legislative action on the 2013 budget bills is anticipated to occur during legislative session scheduled for Monday-Wednesday.