AGENCIES PAINT BRIGHTER FISCAL PICTURE

The fiscal outlook for the territory is not so bad, according to testimony from three of the government's semi-autonomous agencies Monday.
At a Senate Finance Committee meeting, heads of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, V.I. Port Authority and West Indian Company Ltd. gave optimistic accounts of 2001 revenue projections.
The meeting was the final overview of the governor's FY 2001 Budget, a budget that has so far taken a severe beating mainly for its proposed tax increases.
Raymond George, WAPA executive director, said recently completed external audits show the "financial condition of WAPA is good." He said the authority achieved net incomes of $4.3 million on the electric system, and $3.4 million on the water system.
While the revenue picture is good, George said, the cash flow isn't. He cited the $22.6 million the government owes WAPA, and the untimely collection of adjusted fuel (LEAC) fees, which resulted in an $11 million cash short fall for FY 2000.
George told Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Berry the government pays in lump sum, though it could be broken down by department. Berry said that in several of the department budgets she has received, there was no mention of utility costs. She said the costs should be "line-itemed" into the budgets.
George said plans for 2001 include installation of a new 24-megawatt unit on St. Thomas, several underground power lines on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and water line extensions to Smith Bay and Red Hook on St. Thomas, as well as a submarine water line to St. John. George also said WAPA was willing to take over all the street lighting from the Department of Public Works.
Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, assisted by Darlin Brin, Port Authority planner, gave a glowing account of the authority's accomplishments and upcoming plans. Finch said about half of Port Authority's FY 2001 $62.3 million budget will be spent on capital projects, "and that's pretty damn good," he said.
Brin outlined the projects, which include finishing the runway expansion, a new terminal and control tower for the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, dredging St. Thomas harbor, for which Port Authority recently got all the permits, and work on the Enighed Pond Cargo dock on St. John, which needs additional federal funding.
Another project is a design competition which is now under way to enhance the Charlotte Amalie waterfront apron. The plan will include landscaping and rest areas.
Edward Thomas, WICO president and chief executive officer, projected 825 cruise ship calls for St. Thomas-St. John from Oct. 2000 through April 2001, as compared to 703 for the same period last year. He said St. Croix's calls would increase from 116 to 142 for the same periods.
Thomas said he anticipated 1.7 million cruise passengers this fiscal year which should translate into $1.6 billion of total economic impact, or about 50 percent of the total expenditure for the tourism product. He also expressed satisfaction with the recent acquisition of Yacht Haven by Long Bay Partners, which has begun a master plan for a marina, hotel and retail complex for the area.
But Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan lit into Thomas because he didn't present a detailed financial account of WICO's activities. Thomas said that he didn't have to present anything other than an audited financial statement yearly. "I was asked for a budget overview, and that is what I have done," Thomas said. He explained that WICO is a "hybrid," part public entity, and part private company.
Berry asked each of the three officials for a contribution from their agencies to the central government to help the territory's teachers. She said that last week, teacher representatives had asked the committee's help in securing more funding.
Thomas pledged $250,000 more from WICO. George said money was included in his budget, and Finch said perhaps a plan could be worked out, but he could not promise anything.
Percival Clouden, board chairman for the Government Development Bank, said during a presentation near the hearing's end, that the bank was having trouble because it doesn't have a president or a full complement of board members. The bank loans money to small businesses.

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