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Thursday, August 11, 2022
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Car Rental Fee Hike May Pay For ‘Nardo’ Drive

A bill increasing the government’s car rental fee from $2 to $3.75 and using part of the new money to finish Leonardo "Nardo" Trotman Drive on St. Thomas passed out of the Finance Committee, taking the first of several steps toward becoming V.I. Law Tuesday.

The original purpose of the bill was to create a reliable, predictable revenue stream to leverage loans to pay to finish several construction projects, including Trotman Drive, said its sponsor Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe. Once those are complete, the extra revenue would be split between the Education Maintenance Fund, which is dedicated to school maintenance, and the V.I. Education Initiative Fund.

Senators approved amendments adding several smaller capital projects to the tab, including some culvert work in Christiansted on St. Croix and a permanent emergency services facility in Estate Fortuna on St. Thomas, to house fire and rescue personnel and equipment.

Voting to send the bill out of the originating committee were: Dowe, Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Janette Millin-Young and Sammuel Sanes. Voting no were Sens. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly and Celestino White.

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Sen. Patrick Hill was absent.

The committee also forwarded a bill creating a veterans burial revolving fund and appropriating $50,000 to fund it. These funds are in addition to an existing appropriation of $200,000 that is available until expended for V.I. veterans’ burial expenses. The bill would also transfer responsibility for administering burial funds to the Department of Finance, which would disburse it with the approval of the Office of Veterans Affairs.

While Finance normally oversees expenditures like this, the law as written currently gives that responsibility to the V.I. Office of Veterans Affairs.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of forwarding the bill, with Hill absent.

A $300,000 appropriation to build a vendors’ plaza on St. John was also sent out of committee. The plaza would be for items made, grown or harvested in the territory. According to bill sponsor Sen. Craig Barshinger, St. John is the only one of three major islands without a vendors’ plaza and the Legislature has been considering it since the 20th Legislature, nearly two decades ago.

Assistant Tourism Commissioner Brad Nugent testified his department supported the concept but added that finding the right location—and funding—is crucial.

Because of the V.I. Government’s current fiscal crisis, "Tourism has had to reduce its budget by some 30 percent this year," he said.

The committee unanimously approved sending the bill forward "pending a funding amendment."

These bills will next be considered by the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, and if they are approved there, will be voted up or down by the full Legislature.

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