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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


April 23, 2004 – Administration financial officers and Anti-Litter and Beautification Committee officials passed the blame around on Friday as senators tried to nail down how the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund ended up in the red.
Finance Committee members could get no clear-cut answers, except for one: Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said the fund at the moment is $307,971.29 overspent.
"We were apprised on March 7 of the overdrawn status of our fund," Cordell Jacobs, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John anti-litter committee, said. "At the present time, and until more monies are deposited into the fund, all programs have been halted, and the only item being paid at this time is payroll."
That means, he said, no recycling, no neighborhood beautification program grants, no Red Hook recycling center, no Litter Critter, no Saturday beautification program, and no Clean and Preen job program for young people this summer.
The report from Errol Chichester, chair of the St. Croix anti-litter committee, echoed what Jacobs had said. "Because of the present financial status, we have had to put a number of projects on hold," he said. "It is our hope that the situation will be resolved shortly, so that we could continue with those programs."
The Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund gets most of its revenues — about $240,000 a month, according to Bernice Turnbull — from the territory's tax on beverage bottles and cans. The Legislature appropriates money from the fund, mainly for Public Works Department anti-litter programs.
Jacobs said the St. Thomas-St. John committee was told by Office of Management and Budget officials last August that there was $200,000 in the account — but the Finance Department showed $4.9 million in the "life-to-date" account. Life-to-date account is monies accrued in the fund from the inception of the fund to present. Turnbull said, however, the $4.9 million total does not reflect the monies available for the current fiscal year.
Jacobs told the senators that the committee was given the go-ahead by the Finance Department to continue drawing money from the fund to conduct a recycling program.
"I believe this is the single allotment that caused us to overdraft," Jacobs said.
Did the committees misunderstand how to manage their funds?
However, Bernice Turnbull said the main reason for the fund being in the red is that it was overappropriated by the Legislature and "over-obligated" by both committees, which she said "misunderstood" how to administer their funds.
The financial officers of both anti-litter committees told the senators they had stayed within their budgets. Celeste Bermudez, St. Croix committee financial officer, said that in going through the records she saw 45 encumbrances — money set apart for a specific use — that the Finance Department had kept active when they should have been closed.
"Granted the Legislature overappropriated the fund, but OMB cannot allot monies that do not exist," Sen Louis Hill said. "So how did this happen?" He said when the Senate makes appropriations for projects, it usually is told if there is insufficient money in the fund — and that no money goes for projects if the funding is not available.
The Legislature appropriated $6.5 million from the fund in fiscal year 2003 and has appropriated $3.9 million this fiscal year.
Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, blamed glitches in the Finance Department's financial management system for the possible confusion on how much money the committees had in their accounts.
Turnbull said she didn't know how anyone in her department could have made such a mistake, but she "wasn't there" when the St. Thomas-St. John anti-litter committee was told that there was $4.9 million in the account. The $4.9 million is the life-to-date-account figure, she said, and does not reflect the money available for the fiscal year.
Turnbull was asked where the money for payroll was coming from, if there was no money in the anti-litter fund. She said the money was taken from a "pool of money" from other funds. The negative balance from the fund reflects payroll, she said.
Turnbull said the fund usually receives about $240,000 in revenues monthly but revenues for March and April have not been received. Once that money is in the coffers, the fund should be out of the red, she said.
Finance commissioner: Other agencies also in red
The Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission is not the only government agency operating in the red, Turnbull told the senators. She would not identify any others.
She said that once the governor's new financial controls are in place, if a department has no money in its account, it will not be able to meet its payroll.
"All of the fiscal officers were warned that they need to get their house fiscally in order," Turnbull said.
Turnbull also said training is available for the fiscal officers of the anti-litter committees to help them get a better understanding of the financial management system.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the Finance Committee chair, asked if the committees will be able to host their respective summer programs — Youth Environmental Summer Program on St. Croix and Clean and Preen Summer Program on St. Thomas-St. John. The programs in years past have employed about 300 young people.
Mills told Donastorg that once the money is there, the programs will take place.
"We need to get that money," Gloria Joseph, a member of the St. Croix anti-litter committee, said. Many young people depend on that program to earn money for school clothes and books, she said.
All committee members were present at the hearing: Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who is not a member of the committee, also was present.

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