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HomeNewsArchivesFINANCE QUERIES IDC, CASINO OFFICIALS ON BUDGET

FINANCE QUERIES IDC, CASINO OFFICIALS ON BUDGET

In its continuing Fiscal Year 2001 Budget overview, the Senate Finance Committee heard Monday morning from officials of the Industrial Development Commission, Casino Control Commission and the governor's Office of Capital Improvement Programs.
Keith Richards, capital improvement programs assistant director, came in for a barrage of questioning from senators, as his presentation left several holes unfilled. Chief among senators' concerns was why so many projects wound up over budget, and why payments weren't made on time. Richards did not have documentation to answer all the inquiries.
He said, "There was so much work going on during the summer that some contractors had problems keeping up with the amount of work available." He added that the government continues to be plagued by problems in processing documents because of its financial situation.
He cited several projects the government has completed over the last year including the new Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School at about $20 million to $22 million, and the Peace Corps and Lockhart elementary schools at about a total of $23 million. He said the schools are 95 percent complete.
Richards noted the recent renovation and reopening of Government House on St. Croix for close to $14 million, and the expansion of Golden Grove Prison. He said the prison is expected to be finished ahead of schedule and below budget by about $2 million.
Work on the Patrick Sweeney Police Command in St. Croix got the attention of Sen. Gregory Bennerson. Richards had said the command was undergoing "significant restoration," a remark which Bennerson questioned. "I was in the building two weeks ago and the roof was leaking and the contractors were having electrical problems," Bennerson said.
He noted that as a former police officer, he had worked in the building for 16 years. He asked how much had been spent on the project; Richards said he didn't know. Bennerson noted he hadn't seen any "significant restoration," and said the programs need a set of checks and balances.
Richards also stated that the territory's potholes had been "patched and paved." Surprised, Bennerson and other senators disagreed.
Frandelle Gerard, IDC director, presented her $831,000 FY2001 budget, with detailed explanations of IDC activity. She asked for a clear explanation of administrative personnel functions that have been bogged down the agency's operations. She said she was "in support of a consolidated Economic Development Agency."
She cited the immediate need for more personnel. There is one sole employee in the St. Thomas office which made IDC enforcement difficult. Her budget includes funding for two more positions for enforcement personnel.
She said new IDC beneficiaries approved represent an infusion of 895 new jobs in the territory with a payroll of $20.8 million. She asked that senators support the proposal that the fees IDC applicants and beneficiaries pay be given back to the commission, as proposed in the FY 2001 budget, instead of going into the general fund. Berry backed Gerard's remarks, noting that "we have to fund the revenue-generating agencies."
Eileen Peterson, who chairs the Casino Control Commission, said it had collected $399,000 in gross revenue taxes for the first quarter of this year, since the Divi Casino on St. Croix began operating, and another $142,000 in license fees. She said she wished Monday's meeting were two weeks from now when she would have more information on a possible new casino in the near future.
St. Croix businessman Mario de Chabert said earlier this month that he expected to soon close financing for an eight-story, 193-room Crowne Plaza Queen Anne Hotel and Casino on his family's property near Sunny Isle Shopping Center.
Peterson also said she is awaiting talks with Internet gambling representatives, who are attending a convention in Antigua in November. The U.S., she noted, is strongly against Internet gambling.
Berry said Monday was the last of the budget overview meetings, and further hearings would probably resume next week.

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