July 24, 2004 The public will be able to learn the results of the closely watched and eagerly awaited gasoline study by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs as early as next week.
Andrew Rutnik, DCLA commissioner, told the Senate Finance Committee Friday that the study is completed. It will first go to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and then be made public before Sen. Luther Renee's Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.
A similar 1990 study went nowhere. Sen. Louis Hill said the government did not act on that study. He asked Rutnik what he would do with the results of the current study. The $50,000 to fund the study was initiated earlier this year at the urging of the Legislature, with Rutnik's support
"The study's recommendations are historic," Rutnik said. For one, the government will be required to regulate the price of fuel for the next two years. Rutnik ordered the price freeze in April after world oil prices began to rise; he instituted a freeze subject to periodic adjustment to reflect world market changes.
On June 4, Hovensa increased its rack rate – what it charges fuel trucks to fill up at its loading dock on St. Croix – by 19 cents a gallon for regular and 20.5 cents for premium. DLCA immediately granted increases of 20 cents a gallon on the island for both regular and premium gas.
Secondly, Rutnik said, competition should be encouraged. He proposed negotiating with Hovensa to offer rack rates to St. Thomas. Third, he said the government should think about storage facilities on St. Thomas. "It's the transportation of gasoline that is expensive," he said. "This way we could get bulk rates."
And, Rutnik said, people need to be educated on their pump habits. He said, "Residents waste $1.7 million a year with certain habits."
For instance, he said, it not necessary to use premium gas unless you have a "high performance vehicle." He said motorists could save $200 yearly by using regular. There are 69,000 vehicles in the territory, and that adds up to $1.38 million per year. Unless one is disabled or elderly, he said, pumping one's own gas saves 10 cents a gallon.
Rutnik had news for the committee about the ongoing investigation by the Inspector General of the Taxi Commission, which was disbanded in 2001. The Taxi Commission is now the Taxi Division under DCLA.
He said he could not comment directly on the investigation because it is ongoing. He said the investigation has uncovered "many instances of fraud." However, Rutnik said, "When we are finished the taxi division will be the cleanest in the government."
Responding to Sen. Roosevelt David's inquiry, Rutnik said he would "reserve" his opinion until he sees a bill being drafted by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd on re-establishing the Taxi Commission independent of the DCLA. He said there is still "a lot of reform to be done to rebuild the taxi industry." See – Vendors, Taxi Drivers Clash with DCLA's Rutnik Rutnik said one of the agency's main accomplishments is its ability to issue business licenses "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year." Though the agency has come a long way, Rutnik said, there are still "hurdles." "The e-government solution is to bring this technology to the rest of our partners in the form of a one-stop electronic data transfer system."
"Although the business license system is web-based," Rutnik said, "it does not preclude anyone from physically coming into our office to renew or apply for a license." He said soon computers would be installed in the reception areas, so applicants won't have to stand in line.
The DCLA is requesting a fiscal year 2005 budget of $3.9 million. It will be funded by $2.4 million from the General Fund; $896,000 from the Public Services Commission Revolving Fund; $370,000 from the Taxi License Fund and $300,000 from the Consumer Protection Fund.
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