April 7, 2006 – Senators moved quickly through a packed Rules and Judiciary Committee agenda Friday, approving seven nominations to various government boards and commissions, along with a bill regulating the use of Segway human transporters throughout the community.
Issues relating to local property tax laws, the social work system and affordable housing were also touched on during a question-and-answer round with the nominees. Public beach access and various road projects were also discussed.
Responding to concerns raised by senators, James Crites, nominated to the V.I. Tax Review Board, said there is a "significant backlog" of property tax cases pending and that a plan should be developed to deal with reducing the appeals. He said the plan should include provisions that reduce the "demand placed on the board" in the future.
Sen. Ronald E. Russell asked Crites whether he thinks the board should consider the interests of the tax-payer or the interests of the government when reviewing appeals cases.
"For example, the property taxes on St. John are rising because real estate values are rising," Russell said. "In this case, do you give the tax-payer a break or do you vote in favor of the government?"
Crites said he would make "fair and equitable" judgments after "weighing all the factors."
During questioning, Dilsa Rohn Capdeville, re-nominated to the V.I. Board of Social Work Licensure, said that the number of sexual abuse and domestic violence cases in the territory have skyrocketed over the past few years. "That's why I started Kidscope Inc. – because I felt our children were falling through the cracks," she said.
Capdeville told senators that despite the "valuable service" Kidscope provides to the community, the organization does not receive enough funding to keep up with its operational expenses.
"I have no money to pay my staff," she said. "Our appropriation from the Legislature was only about $50,000 and we only got part of it. Additionally, those funds are appropriated for specific projects and programs, and do not contribute to our operations."
Capdeville said Kidscope needs about $25,000 a month in order to function.
Capdeville, who said she had been the only member of the board for the past two years, said she also wanted to work closely with the Legislature to pass a bill that would streamline provisions in the V.I. Code related to the function of the board and other rules and regulations designed for social workers.
"This 'model law' was submitted to the Senate about two years ago and will be reviewed by the board once we get more members," she said. "It also provides for the establishment of an annual conference where social workers in the territory could meet with national representatives to learn more about what's going on in the field."
Capdeville, along with Winifred Anthony-Todman – also nominated to the Board of Social Work Licensure – said the board would concentrate on providing education and training to licensed social workers and would work to attract more males to the profession.
On the topic of housing, Earl DeWindt – nominated to the Housing Finance Authority Board – said his goal is to provide more affordable housing opportunities for the elderly. He said the Lucinda Millin Home for the Aged on St. Thomas is "not adequate," and more facilities need to be constructed in both districts.
When asked to provide an opinion on the upcoming eviction of tenants from Estate Bournefield (See "Bournefield Tenants Look for Answers from Port Authority"), DeWindt told senators that the residents should have been given "proper notice before being kicked out in mass" and should also have been given some assistance in finding other low-income housing units. DeWindt said the Housing Finance Authority would try to help tenants by providing affordable homeownership opportunities.
"I feel like we're constantly doing the same thing," Sen. Roosevelt C. David said. "What we need is new avenues and initiatives because we're not getting enough houses built to meet the demands of the community."
Henry T. Harrigan, nominated to the Coastal Zone Management Commission, said he is in favor of allowing the public to access all beaches in the territory. Harrigan specifically referred to Lindqvist Beach on St. Thomas – blocked off earlier this month by owners of the property, which has been open to the public for "as long as I could remember," he said. (See "Developer Blocks Access to Lindqvist Beach, Again").
While Harrigan told senators that the interests of both the developer and community members should be considered in such cases, he also proposed that the territory's Open Shorelines Act be revamped to address the concerns of the public.
All five nominees were approved Friday, along with:
–Diane Mawson Walker to the V.I. Historic Preservation Commission.
–Delores A. Powell to the V.I. Board of Social Work Licensure.
–Eduardo O'Neal to the Public Works Acceleration Board.
The nominations were forwarded to the full body for further consideration and a final vote.
A bill allowing for the use of Segway human transporters (an electric scooter used in pedestrian areas) to conduct tours around downtown Charlotte Amalie was also approved by senators Friday – despite concerns raised by Public Works Commissioner George Phillips.
Phillips said the bill did not address certain key issues such as whether or not the machines are classified as motor vehicles or whether residents would have to obtain a license and insurance before operating them. He said a new infrastructure might have to be built to accommodate the machines, which would operate on sidewalks instead of public roads.
Attorney Tom Bolt, representing Caribbean Segway Tours, said the devices are used in 44 states and are not considered motor vehicles, so residents would not need a license or insurance to operate them.
Senators voted to forward the bill to the full Senate body for a vote and the addition of amendments which address the concerns raised during the meeting.
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Lorraine L. Berry, David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence Nelson, Russell, and Celestino A. White Sr.
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