March 11, 2004 – St. Thomas North Side and Bordeaux community activists were jubilant at Wednesday's Senate override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto last December of $1.3 million for the Fire Service. The funding provides for the reopening of the Dorothea and Bordeaux fire stations and the hiring of 24 more firefighters for the St. Thomas-St. John district.
A Government House spokesman indicated on Thursday that Turnbull wasn't displeased with the action, either.
According to James O'Bryan, Turnbull's spokesman as well as St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, the governor's financial team "had already planned to put the money for the Fire Service in the supplemental budget" that Turnbull had pledged at the time of his veto action that he would submit.
"Nathan Simmonds, head of the team and the governor's chief financial adviser, had been advised to tell the Senate," O'Bryan said.
"The governor has always recognized the need to do this," he continued. "One damper put on the project was that several firefighters were sent to Afghanistan with the National Guard. It will take time to train 24 new firefighters." He said the administration didn't want to give the public the impression that the stations "would be opened tomorrow."
O'Bryan added: "From every indication, the governor and Fire Service officials are all basically in support of the intent of the measure." The problem, he said, has been "the availability and sustainability of the funding. It's a larger impact than just [salaries]. For each employee you have Workers' Compensation and health insurance that go with the positions."
O'Bryan also said the physical condition of the Bordeaux fire station needs to be addressed. "Somebody needs to visit the Bordeaux station," he said. "When I first went down there, ficus trees were uprooting the building."
He said it would be "prohibitive to build there now. There's new housing going on, and there's building materials all over the entire complex."
The property is owned by the Housing Finance Authority, he said.
The Northside Civic Organization has been demanding for years that the Dorothea station be put back into service. Ann Durante-Arnold, NCO president, and organization member Jason Budsan were present for Wednesday's override vote, sponsored by Sen. Carlton Dowe.
Budsan said later: "I am absolutely elated. Now we can sleep well at night. I'm so happy the community got together behind this. This is a priority. I commend Sen. Dowe and 'Mousy' [Daryl George, firefighters union president]. They've been a continuing presence helping to get our stations open. I'm just very happy."
George also was happy, with reservations. "It's a mini-victory," he said on Thursday. "You know, it's up to the governor now to see if he is going to allow Mills [Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director] to release the funding. I'm not optimistic that they will after some remarks I heard yesterday."
In a Government House release issued Wednesday night, Turnbull announced new restraints on expenditures, saying he would not approve funding for any projects, "regardless of their worthiness, if the funds aren't available."
George said the Senate override "was a very good shot in the arm, but I was very disappointed to hear the inter-island rivalry. I'm always fighting for St. Croix. If you look at the record, promotion has been stagnant on St. Croix."
The proposal to override the Fire Service appropriation veto had one provision for St. Croix — the creation of two fire captain positions for the district. The override passed on a 11-3 vote. Voting against it were Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell, all Crucians. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg was absent.
Richards said he could not support the override because he didn't see "one penny for St. Croix" in it. Jn Baptiste agreed with Richards. Russell said he would not vote for the override unless he was certain the funding was available.
As for the condition of the Bordeaux station, George said: "The firefighters are willing to repair the fire station — going in there and getting it up to par." He said they have talked with Clifford Graham, Housing Finance Authority director, "and said we would paint the building; that's no problem." He said it would be "at least two, maybe three months, before the stations should be open."
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