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Public Works and Health Take On Senate Finance Committee

May 9, 2008 — Called before the Senate Thursday to answer questions about their departments' finances, Public Works and Health officials instead fielded questions on everything from the overgrowth of brush on island highways to how many ambulances are running on St. Croix.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls was the first on the Senate Finance Committee's agenda, starting off a series of hearings that ran from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. He was accompanied by Roberto Cintron, assistant commissioner; Dayna Clendinen, deputy commissioner; and Vida Rouse, Public Works director of administrative services.
Bush on the edge of some roads had grown up so much that it made two lane roads into single lanes, said committee chairman Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson. He asked if the trimming was the responsibility of local property owners or Public Works. Tree canopies over some roads are nice, but often obstruct light from streetlights, Nelson added later.
For the most part, it is the responsibility of Public Works, and road crews are keeping us as best as they can, Smalls said. He said Public Works has been trimming around the streetlights and added that the department was looking into the use of more energy efficient streetlights.
Sticking more to the subject of the meeting — how Public Works is spending its fiscal year 2008 budget appropriation — Sen. Basil Ottley questioned why DPW has so many vacancies for skilled workers. Smalls said the salaries offered by the government made hiring a challenge. There are just not many skilled applicants available on the islands, he added.
In his opening statement, Smalls said that close to $14 million was appropriated for the department's use in the first half of the fiscal year and $12 million had already been expended. He cited many challenges facing the department including the rising cost of oil affecting the cost of asphalt.
"The resources entrusted to the department are utilized to satisfy the most critical of the numerous needs with which it is confronted daily. The department will continue to prioritize spending so that the residents of the Virgin Islands can derive the greatest benefit," Smalls said.
Sen. Usie Richards focused much of his time for questioning on comments about the need to rename a road.
Public Works is also looking at getting two new paint stripe machines, Smalls said later.
In the second half of the hearing, Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd said in her opening remarks that the Department of Health was "solution based and patient focused."
Nelson pointed out that Ebbesen-Fludd was the first nurse to head the department. He said that it was good that someone who had served on the "front lines" was now heading the department.
Richards focused his line of questioning on the department's collection of accounts receivable. Ebbesen-Fludd said that was an area on which the department was also focused. Soon the department would be able to take payments by credit and debit cards, she said.
Richards also asked about the department's fee schedule for certain medical treatments. Ebbesen-Fludd answered that in some cases the fees really did not match the costs of the treatments and were now under department scrutiny.
Hiring is also a challenge for DOH because of low unattractive salaries, she said.

Present during Thursday's meeting were Nelson, Ottley, Richards and Sen. James Weber III.
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