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SENATE VOTES MONEY FOR TECH PARK, FIREFIGHTERS

Sept. 5, 2003 – Despite stern warnings from the governor about taking money from Peter to fund Paul, but in the face of his own doing just that, the 25th Legislature overrode his veto of a $2.5 million appropriation for the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park on Thursday.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull had said repeatedly that money in the Insurance Guaranty Fund was not to be used except for its intended purpose — to pay insurance claims, should a company go out of business. But his proposed Fiscal Year 2004 budget, unveiled a week ago, appropriates $8 million from the fund toward balancing the budget.
The Research and Technology Park funding was to come from the insurance fund. With the override, voted as an amendment to a bill allocating 2003 federal Community Development Block Grant money, it will.
The governor also had issued stern admonitions to the Senate about appropriating money that doesn't exist — routinely for the last couple of years. But at his two recent press conferences, with the government facing a sizable fiscal deficit, he vowed to send any such appropriations reaching his desk right out the window.
But the Legislature had its way in that regard, too.
Part way though Thursday's second day of the full Senate session, as the lawmakers were dealing with a bill apportioning the territory's $1.95 million in CDBG funds, Sen. Lorraine Berry abruptly introduced an amendment to appropriate $1 million from interest on bond proceeds to provide the Police Department's Motor Vehicle Bureau with funding to prevent imminent layoffs. Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Emmett Hansen II, David Jones and Shawn-Michael Malone signed on as co-sponsors.
Berry and other senators said Lawrence Olive, bureau director, had been to their offices to describe his plight. He said that the government was not going to provide funding for Inspection Lane temporary employees for FY 2004, and that 27 of them would be laid off territorywide. Should that happen, he said, the bureau would have to detail personnel from other police units.
Berry said the bureau generates about $9 million annually and this is a revenue source the government cannot lose. Her measure passed 12-0, with Sen. Ronald Russell not voting, Sen. Luther Renee absent for the vote and Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd excused from the session.
This move prompted a harangue from Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. about the firefighters who have yet to get raises promised them in negotiated contracts which have not been implemented. By the afternoon session, about a dozen firefighters sat in the chambers awaiting Senate action.
Sen. Usie Richards successfully offered an amendment — sponsored by the minority caucus, which includes White — to appropriate $2.5 million for the firefighters' raises. It called for the pay hikes to be funded with $1.5 million also from interest on bond proceeds, and $1 million from the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employees Increment Fund. Earlier this year, Turnbull vetoed an appropriation from the Insurance Guaranty Fund to cover the raises.
Also accepted was another Richards amendment to allocate $150,000 for the paving of what is known as Hard Labor Road in Grove Place on St. Croix and yet another to provide $50,000 for the construction of restroom facilities in Estate La Vallee. "There have not been any lights on Hard Labor Road since Hurricane Marilyn," he said. "It is very hazardous."
On an amendment sponsored by Sens. Berry, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill and White, $125,000 was reprogrammed from the 2003 grant money that had been earmarked for the acquisition of a Savan building for use as a museum. Noting that Savan already has a community center to serve that purpose, they allocated the money for improvements to the Bovini community including playgrounds, and for playgrounds at Lockhart and Peace Corps Elementary Schools.
Berry lamented the fact that, with the millions of dollars that were spent on rebuilding Lockhart and Peace Corps Schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, such a basic component as playgrounds was left out.
The lawmakers also made changes in the administration's proposal to reprogram about $600,000 in CDBG funds unused from previous years.
They shifted $219,651 right back to the not-for-profit organization Our Town Frederiksted which Turnbull had reprogrammed elsewhere because OTF hadn't used the funds. The money was from awards in 2000 and 1999 to provide loans and grants to Frederiksted residents for rehabilitation of their homes. "The organization has been slow in using these funds since it is unable to secure eligible applicants," a Government House release had stated.
Renee, a St. Croix senator, said: "I won't support any attempt to take dollars from Frederiksted. Anyone who has walked down the street there in the last two weeks can see a marked difference."
The lawmakers approved the administration's recommendation to award the Housing Finance Authority $250,000 in 2003 funds for site improvements on St. Croix. But they reduced from the recommended $419,830 to about $370,000 the amount to be reprogrammed from earlier grant allocations for similar work on St. Thomas.
For the distribution of the CDBG funding as proposed by the administration, see "38 projects proposed for 2003 block grant funds"
All senators were present for both days of the session except for Liburd, who was excused for both days, and Donastorg, who was excused on Thursday afternoon.

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