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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 24, 2022


Two out of six bills were approved Tuesday in an all-day meeting of the Senate Finance committee chaired by Sen. Lorraine Berry.
Approved were a lease agreement between E.D. Plumbing Contractors Inc. and the Department of Property and Procurement, and a bill to increase the highway users' tax.
The first calls for lease of a parcel of unimproved land in Estate Nisky (No.1-B) on St. Thomas, for construction of a two-story commercial building to be used for offices, storeroom and a plumbing supply store.
The lease was approved unanimously by Sens. Berry, Gregory Bennerson, V. Anne Golden and Roosevelt David. All of them praised the president of the plumbing company, Euston A. David, for his investment and faith in the territory's economy, even though he is owed $600,000 by the V.I. government.
The second bill, also approved by all senators, was a proposal by Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan to raise the highway users' tax from 11 to 15 cents a pound. Both bills were reported out to the Rules Committee for consideration.
Another Bryan bill, providing that any real property seized by the government in lieu of property taxes be turned over to the department of Housing, Parks and Recreation to be sold as residential lots to "first-time property buyers," was held in committee. More study on the proposal was needed, it was decided.
A bill introduced by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste to reduce the property tax exemption by 20 percent for future Industrial Development Commission certificate beneficiaries, and to deposit the proceeds in a special Education Department fund, was also held in committee.
Sen. Golden said that while the bill may have good intent, it would be "a disservice to the IDC to tamper with the commission's benefits with no IDC members present."
Berry said she had received correspondence from Frandelle Gerard, director of the IDC, and from Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds, indicating neither was able to attend the session.
Another bill proposed by Bryan calling for a 25 percent reduction of IDC tax exemption applicant benefits was held in committee for further economic study.
A bill introduced by Sen. Adlah "Fonsie" Donastorg to create a special income-tax refund fund generated some lively debate. Berry asked that the bill, sixth on the agenda, be considered earlier so that Claudette Farrington, Internal Revenue Bureau director, wouldn't have to return after lunch to testify.
This did not sit well with Bryan. He pointed out that Farrington was a public servant and should be available to the Legislature when requested. "In fact, she should be here late at night, like we are," he said.
Among Bryan's concerns were the alleged duplication of refund checks, checks in the wrong amounts, and the subsequent requests of IRB to have the taxpayers come to the agency's office to straighten matters out.
Farrington returned to the afternoon session, as did Bernice Turnbull, Finance commissioner. The two were grilled by Bryan on the status of income-tax refund payments, and the condition of the agency's computers. Bryan accused Farrington, along with Granville Smith, IRB chief of computer operations, of being responsible for the agency's problems.
Farrington said she wouldn't discuss personnel matters in public. She noted, however, that IRB had had problems with the software consultants the bureau had hired to bring the agency to Y2K compliance. She said the matter was in the hands of the attorney general.
Donastorg's bill was tabled indefinitely after it was learned that it might adversely affect the $300 million bond issue's contractual agreements and payroll.
Sens. Berry, Gregory Bennerson, Roosevelt David, and Golden attended the meeting in addition to Bryan, Donald "Ducks"Cole, Donastorg, Jn Baptiste and Almando "Rocky" Liburd.
The next Finance committee meeting, originally scheduled for Feb. 22, has been rescheduled for Feb. 25, at which time the burning question of the tobacco settlement funds will be addressed.

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