Aug. 13, 2003 – The Housing Parks and Recreation Department asked for a General Fund appropriation of $6 million for Fiscal Year 2004, an increase of $2 million in its overall budget from FY 2003, at Wednesday's budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
Also making their bids were the V.I. Housing Finance Authority and the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corp.
Housing Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson said he wants to embark on three major construction projects in FY 2004 — a sports complex in Estate Nazareth on St. Thomas, another at Estate Body Slob on St. Croix, and a recreation center at D.C. Canegata Ballpark on St. Croix.
Hobson stated that his request from the General Fund of $6 million will enable his department "to develop initiatives [and] better quality of lives, while procuring a high standard of decent housing and healthy recreation."
According to the Senate's Post Audit division, the department's FY 2004 request represents an increase of $1.3 million and the FY 2003 General Fund request was $5 million.
"It represents an increase of $2 million on the overall request," Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Finance Committee chair, said.
Donastorg also said a department listing of personnel salaries seemed to have overlapping of positions:
Special project coordinator — $22,000.
Special project coordinator — $25,000.
Project supervisor I — $27,631.
Project supervisor II (vacant) — $26,499.
Chief project coordinator (vacant) — $30,053.
"Why do we need a project supervisor?" Donastorg asked. "Why do we need a chief project coordinator?"
"I wouldn't ask for them if it was not necessary," Hobson replied. Over the years, he said, the department has had recreation supervisors who were simple helpers, but what is needed are people who can design and write.
Hobson said his department's major housing accomplishments in the current fiscal year have been:
– Completing and selling 101 homes at Castle Burke on St. Croix.
– Receiving $4 million from a rural development agency for mortgage take-out.
– Receiving $1 million from the Housing Finance Authority and $750,000 from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department for persons needing financial assistance in meeting housing requirements.
He also said the department is about to complete 84 homes in the Adventure Hill lease-to-homeownership program on St. Croix.
In the area of recreational facilities, Hobson cited as accomplishments:
– Rehabilitation of Burning Bush Recreational Center, Cramer's Park, Fort Frederik basketball and tennis courts, Renholdt Jackson Complex, Sion Farm Park and Vincent Mason pool on St. Croix.
– Rehabilitation of the Alvin McBean Complex, Lionel "Smut" Richards Park, Sub Base tennis and paddle-ball courts, Winston Raymo Center, Emile Griffith Ballpark, Savan courts and Coki Point restrooms on St. Thomas; and of the Pine Peace court on St. John.
Hobson presented a five-year plan to repair and improve existing facilities and construct the proposed new ones, including on Water Island, utilizing federal Community Development Block Grant money and the secured supplemental funding for homeownership from the rural development agency and HUD.
The department's budget request from the General Fund includes:
Personnel — $3.6 million.
Capital outlays — $1.9 million.
Fringe benefits — $1.2 million.
Supplies — $314,532.
Utilities — $198,936.
Other services and charges — $546,724.
An additional $1.6 million in supplemental funding is requested for utilities.
Proportionally, Donastorg said, the department is proposing to spend more money on utilities than anything else.
"We just lighted every single park in the V.I.," Hobson said, "that is good — but it is a problem."
Freida Crump, administrator of Housing Land MTG and Loan, testified on loans made but said that lack of a computer system hindered her ability to answer a number of inquiries on details of the arrangement.
Hobson said the department is working on acquiring the needed computer system and having it in place by the end of this calendar year.
Only two committee members — Donastorg and Sen. Luther Renee — were present to conduct the Housing Parks and Recreation hearing on Wednesday morning. Sens. Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone and Ronald Russell were not present.
Housing Finance Authority
Sens. David and Hill joined Donastorg and Renee for the V.I. Housing Finance Authority testimony in the afternoon.
The authority requested an appropriation of $550,000 for FY 2004 — an increase of $100,000 from the current fiscal year.
Clifford Graham, authority executive director, said the increase would allow the agency to expend service-oriented programs such as the Home Buyer Education Program to more clients, move toward acquiring owned office space in the St. Thomas-St. John district and purchase one more vehicle.
Graham said FY 2003 accomplishments have included:
– Developing 83 lots at the Mariendahl subdivision on St. Thomas.
– Negotiating for the construction of 24 townhouses at Calabash Boom on St. John.
– Facilitating development of 99 affordable rental units at Lovenlund Apartments on St. Thomas and 81 such units at Croixville Apartments on St. Croix.
– Installing 35 solar-powered street lights at affordable housing developments at Mount Pleasant on St. Croix and Estate Nazareth on St. Thomas.
Asked by Donastorg what would happen if the $100,000 increase were not approved, Graham said the authority would have to consider not filling vacancies. He also said that instead of hiring permanent employees, he has contracted for professional services. Donastorg questioned whether this is cost effective; Graham said that it is. He submitted a list of the following contracted service positions:
Attorney — $60,000 a year.
Network administrator — $20 an hour.
Construction manger, St. Thomas — $35 an hour.
Construction manager, St. Croix — $28 an hour.
Financial adviser — $195 an hour.
The contract for the St. Thomas manger limits work to 40 hours a week and includes reimbursement for travel expenses and reimbursement of 35 cents per mile for use of the person's own vehicle.
Donastorg honed in on the financial adviser item, saying: "I think we need to shop around" to be sure of having a fair-market price, "instead of being held hostage by this group."
St. Thomas East End Medical Center
The St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corp. requested a budget of $760,155 for FY 2004, up by $218,834 from the current year.
EEMC also requested assistance with the $200,000 annual rent for the East End Clinic space at Tutu Park Mall.
The corporation, which operates the clinic for the government, "does not have a lease or rental agreement with the Tutu Park Mall," Maureen Rabsatt-Cullar, corporation executive director, testified. "The lease is between the Department of Health and the mall," she said, and the Health commissioner negotiated the contract, which has three more years to go.
EEMC as a federally qualified health center is required to offer clinical care by physicians and nurses, prenatal services, immunizations, family planning and many other services without consideration of patients' financial ability to pay.
Rabsatt-Cullar said the corporation hopes to apply for a $650,000 grant along with the private corporation operating the Frederiksted Clinic in order to provide primary health care to the homeless.
David questioned whether leaders in the community are taking the problem seriously.
There are about 2,000 homeless persons in the territory, Rabsatt-Cullar said.
V.I. Housing Authority
The V.I. Housing Authority also had been scheduled to present its FY 2004 budget request to the Finance Committee on Wednesday. However, Lorelei Farrington, acting executiv director,
sent a letter asking that the hearing be deferred due to VIHA's uncertain standing with federal authorities seeking to see the agency placed in receivership.
Donastorg said he would reschedule the presentation.
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