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Senators Approve Nominees, Chastise WAPA Board

April 21, 2008 — While senators unanimously approved several government board and commission nominees Monday, they also raised questions about how certain entities — such as the governing board of the V.I. Water and Power Authority — serve the needs of local residents.
Nominees approved during Monday's full session were:
— Yolander Samuel-Deterville to the Government Employees Service Commission, which oversees the authorization and operation of the government's group health insurance plans, renews the government's employee insurance contract every year and, by law, puts the contract out for new bids every five years;
— Wayne Etheridge to the V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners;
— Terryl Diggs deJongh, Noreen Dunn, Delrease P. Roberts and Elissa R. Runyan to the V.I. Real Estate Appraisers Board; and
— Gerald T. Groner to the WAPA Governing Board.
During a recent Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing, senators expressed concern about rising electricity rates, which have continued to increase in conjunction with spikes in the world oil market. The same concerns were passed around Monday, as members of the Senate's minority decried the WAPA board's failure to deal with pressing energy issues.
"This is the most popular board in the Virgin Islands right now," said Sen. Neville James. "Every detail of these board meetings is being scrutinized like never before — and for good reason. Absent of a comprehensive energy policy, the board will be operating in the same patchwork pattern like it's been doing for so long."
The board has continued to lead the territory "down the wrong path" in dealing with high electricity costs, added Minority leader Sen. Ronald E. Russell: "Over the past several years, the board could have seen, and should have seen, that an arrangement with Hovensa, or some other type of arrangement to deal with fossil fuel, was absolutely necessary."
Concerns about the regulation of high property values were also passed on to nominees of the V.I. Real Estate Appraisers Board. While it was determined that the board's primary duty is to make sure local appraisers are licensed in accordance with specific federal standards, it was also suggested that the data collected by the board on various V.I. properties be used as a template for future valuations.
"If we had a base and a background as to what to expect, maybe we would not have been so surprised as to what kind of values were coming out of here," said Sen. James Weber III. "But as property gets sold and bought, each one of the nominees here records the data. That will give us an idea of what's going on, how accurate these values are and what the pattern is."
The additional Real Estate Board members would finally give the body enough members for a quorum and the ability to approve certain documents — such as meeting minutes and bylaws — outstanding since 2005, nominees said during a recent Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting.
The board has functioned with only two members for the past two years.
Present during Monday's session were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Basil Ottley Jr., Usie R. Richards, Russell, Weber, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
Sen. Louis P. Hill was absent.
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