June 17, 2005 — Chosen as the keynote speaker for Fridays St. Thomas Board of Realtors meeting at the Palms Court Harbourview Hotel, Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen spoke about measures she has been addressing in Congress, including the building of tsunami centers, revising property tax laws, Economic Development Commission issues, a bill to revitalize St. Croix, and a new border patrol unit for the Virgin Islands.
"Many residents have been talking to me about the creation of facilities to aid in the event of a tsunami," Christensen said, "and while some may not think it pertinent, we are a tropical location prone to earthquakes." Christensen added that since this years hurricane season looks to be quite active, there is no harm in taking precaution for the worst, especially since the incident in Sri Lanka "set off some alarms."
Christensen said that the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment is actively working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to put centers in place by 2007. There are currently three proposed for the Virgin Islands.
In response to a recent case brought by several V.I. businesses, Christensen is also working on an amendment to the 1936 Property Tax Act, a piece of legislation which is presently responsible for adversely affecting the territorys residents.
"This Act does not allow for certain exemptions for people such as veterans or farmers," Christensen said, "and as a result, taxes are getting higher, and some of the poor people who have lived here all their life could lose their homes."
Delegate Christensen has proposed a revision — which calls for the Senate to put a cap on how much property tax increases can be — and hopes that residents will be able to have their homes assessed at their proper values, instead of having to pay outrageous tax amounts.
Without making mention of EDC issues related to Vitelco, Christensen did discuss EDC problems with residency legislation, explaining that with businesses, the Internal Revenue Service has the authority to decide where money is coming from based on where the bulk of work is taking place. "If a business makes money from services in the V.I., then the source income stays here," Christensen said, "but the problem we have is that businesses are coming down here, performing their services and taking their source income back to the United States. Then the money does not stay here."
A bill addressing these problems is now before Congress, whereby the EDC will locally rule and regulate business investments and employment, allowing the majority of income — stored in hedge funds and other alliances — to stay here.
As the revitalization of St. Croix has been a topic of much concern throughout the territory, Christensen said that she has also tried to commission a study to see whether St. Croix may be eligible to become a National Heritage Area. She added that she is cooperating with Senate members and Denmark to assess the historical areas of Christiansted, Frederiksted, and Charlotte Amalie. "We would be eligible for economic development monies if we are accepted," Christensen said, "and that could greatly benefit St. Croix."
Christensen, who also sits on the Homeland Security Commission, finally discussed the territorys Congressional application for 2,000 border patrol units to ensure that that the area is well protected from outside threats.
"The border patrol has received our request," the congresswoman said, "but were having some trouble securing the funds weve got enough now for 1,500 units, and were currently working on the rest. I know with public safety here that there are some issues falling through the cracks so we have to get this in place."
Christensen also related that she does not know when or how government funds move in or out of the territory, and that issues of accountability have to be addressed in order for the Virgin Islands to acquire what it needs to function safely and economically.
"There is less spending [from the Senate] on programs we depend on safety, education, housing," she stated, "and since we cant provide the accountability for some of our spending, things could get very tight." In the case of Homeland Security, the Virgin Islands first application for funds for a border patrol unit was turned down three years ago due to federal spending on the Iraq war.
The meeting came to an end with further discussion on a comprehensive land and water plan for the territory. "We have a bill in place already," said April Newland, the national liaison for the board of realtors, "but what we need is a plan."
Referring to legislation put in place by Sen. Usie Richards, Newland added that this bill is outdated and is in serious need of review. "The National Association of Realtors is helping us here," newland said, "because theyre paying for the services of Dr. Brian Blazer [a land-use specialist] whos going to evaluate the plan and update and correct its language."
On a related note, the V.I. Board of Realtors rounded out its meeting with the presentation of scholarships to two students who had written essays on the benefits of a comprehensive land and water plan. Receiving the awards were Sharifa Skelton, who is planning to attend University of the Virgin Islands, and Vijay Mohanani, who is en route to Johnson and Wales University.
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