July 12, 2004 – The Senate Finance Committee took its fiscal year 2005 budget hearings on the road Monday, holding its one scheduled session on St. Croix. Making their pitches for appropriations were the Casino Control Commission, Crucian Christmas Festival Organization, Frederiksted Health Center, Juan F. Luis Hospital/St. Croix Hospital Revolving Fund and the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission's St. Croix Committee.
Casino Control Commission
Eileen Petersen, Casino Control Commission chair, in a statement to the committee expressed her frustration as she listed what she termed the failures of the government to support the commission.
She cited the government's image as unfriendly to business; failure to clean the environment, improve infrastructure and reduce crime; lack of public transportation, hospitality services, adequate marketing and stability in legislation; and mixed messages sent by government agencies." All of these inadequacies, she said, diminish the commission's productivity.
Sen. Luther Renee asked Petersen what she meant by "unfriendly business practices."
"Erratic gaming legislation and the need to go to various agencies to complete an application," Petersen said. "We need to be more direct and specific."
Petersen said the territory's gaming laws are constantly changing, and this deters potential investors. The commission has hesitated to suggest improvements to the law, concerned that it would "open a Pandora's Box," she said.
Sen. Douglas Canton charged that the commission was set up to fail. "It has been under-funded for a reason," he said. "You are not intended to succeed, and offers are being made to take casinos elsewhere."
Since 2003 the commission has been appropriated $650,000, which Petersen says is not enough to meet its mandate plus the additional responsibilities it is charged with.
She also objected heatedly to the placement of the commission's appropriation in the "miscellaneous" section of the executive budget. "Take us out," she said. "We are not a burden to the local government. Every year we get the same 650,000; well … it's demoralizing," she lamented.
Petersen requested an FY 0205 appropriation of slightly more than $1.5 million. She said the commission cannot continue performing the dual roles of marketing and regulating the gaming industry. She said she suggested the Tourism Department or the Economic Development Authority take over the marketing, but her cries "have fallen on deaf ears."
Crucian Christmas Festival Committee
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Finance Committee chair, has been engaged in a war of words with the V.I. Carnival Committee, which on Friday filed suit in Territorial Court seeking to thwart the committee's demands for testimony and financial records.
Before taking testimony on Monday from Lenise Hunt, president of the St. Croix Festival Committee, Donastorg accused carnival committees in general of "engaging in drama." He added: "I am not shaken by the threats of Kenneth Blake or Caswil Callender; they will be held accountable." Blake is the chair and Callender, the executive director of the St. Thomas committee.
Reiterating earlier statements that any audit or investigation into the finances of a carnival committee is not personal, Donastorg said he wanted to make clear that "it is the issue of the integrity of an institution."
Donastorg cited costs incurred by other celebration committees that he said have not been itemized by the V.I. Carnival Committee:
– Administrative leave given to government personnel who serve on the committee.
– Increased police presence during the event.
– Rental of a government parking lot or Village site.
– Rental of government-owned ballparks and stadiums used to host event activities.
– Cleanup services after events by the Public Works Department.
Regarding the St. Croix Festival Committee, Donastorg said he has concerns with the bylaws and that the committee needs to rectify the situation.
He said he has written to the attorney general seeking a legal opinion on amending the bylaws. He asked Hunt if there had been any sharing of information between the St. Croix committee and the St. Thomas committee regarding the bylaws. Hunt replied that there had not been.
The not-for-profit status of the V.I. Carnival Committee is another point of contention. The committee is registered as a not-for-profit V.I. corporation; but according to Donastorg, it does not have the federal 501(c)(3) designation from the Internal Revenue Service. Businesses use organizations' 501(c)(3) status for tax writeoffs. "If private businesses are filing under this representation, then unintentionally they are submitting a false claim," Donastorg said.
The St. Croix committee is requesting $543,000 for FY 2005; the governor has recommended $200,000.
The 2004-05 festival will be held in Christiansted, Hunt said. Senators were concerned how the ongoing construction in Christiansted town and at the Canegata Ballpark will impact festival activities.
Hunt said the committee may have to "downsize to fit into the area." The Times Square renovation will not be completed by December. The schedule of festival events submitted by Hunt has two tramps beginning in the Times Square area. The Housing, Parks and Recreation Department is constructing a sports facility in a section of the area usually used as the site of the Christiansted Village.
Frederiksted Health Center
Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd, executive director of the Frederiksted Health Center, requested a 2005 budget appropriation of a little over $1.8 million. The amount reflects an increase of $30,000 for building and equipment maintenance and an increase of $16,300 for utilities when hours of service are expanded.
The center, now operated by a not-for-profit corporation, caters to the "medically underinsured," providing comprehensive health care services, primary care and health education, primarily to clients living on the western end of St. Croix. Other services include family practice, diabetic care, a cardiology clinic, off-site services at the Whim Gardens Home for the Elderly, prenatal, pediatric, women's health, family planning and eye screening. In December 2002, the center established the first school-based health center in the territory, at Education Complex.
Ebbesen-Fludd said she hopes the center oneday will be a 24-hour response site with an ambulance standing by to meet the needs of West End residents. At present, all ambulances are dispatched from the mid-island Juan F. Luis Hospital.
Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center
In his prepared statement, Gregory Calliste, Luis Hospital chief executive officer, advanced the hospital administration's position that it cannot afford the 8.7 percent reduction in General Fund allotment recommended by the Office of Management and Budget for FY 2005.
Calliste, who assumed the CEO position six months ago, said the hospital needs a "minimum of $20.7 million."
According to the administration's proposed budget, the hospital expended nearly $20.9 million in government allocations in FY 2003 and is looking at $20.8 million for this fiscal year. For FY 2005, Turnbull is proposing a bit under $19 million.
Pastor Lester A. White, who chairs the hospital's governing board, said: "Budgetary cuts serve no one and only hinder the hospital from reaching its goals and accomplishing it mission."
The hospital recently achieved a three-year re-accreditation. During the re-accreditation process the hospital was cited for the "high acuity of specialties not typically seen in a community hospital." Services offered include cardiology/invasive cardiology and soon to come cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, neonatology, trauma, orthopedics, gastroenterology and dialysis.
ntenance of these services requires a budget of about $20.7 million," Calliste said. Any less would jeopardize the hospital and lead to its eventual closure, he said.
The hospital is collecting about $6.3 million a year less than it is billing, he said. Contributing to this is the cost of long-term extended care, patients who are underinsured or have no insurance, unfunded staff increases, decreased General Fund appropriations and general shortfalls with the Hospital Revolving Fund.
To counter these shortfalls, Calliste said, the hospital is implementing an amnesty program, improving medical coding, providing financial counseling, contracting with more insurance companies and modifying discharge and admission policies.
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