The West Indian Co. Ltd. would be interested in exploring the possibility of managing cruise ship facilities on St. Croix now operated by the V.I. Port Authority, WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte told members of the Legislature’s Finance Committee during the annual budget hearings Wednesday.
“It’s a compelling idea,” Boschulte said. “We have the ability, the capacity and the drive to make it succeed.”
Boschulte also said if an analysis showed it was feasible, he would favor combining the Port Authority and WICO cruise ship operations.
The idea of WICO assuming responsibility for St. Croix cruise ship ports, raised by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, didn’t come up when the Port Authority made its presentation late Wednesday afternoon, but Port Authority Interim Director Don Mills did say the working relationship between the two agencies had improved.
O’Reilly, however, wanted to know why the Port Authority pays so little attention to developing its St. Croix operations. “You can’t ignore us forever,” she said.
Mills told her that the Port Authority is working on redevelopment of the Gallows Bay port on St. Croix, but until all the tenants are out and the small boats relocated, the developer won’t start. He didn’t name the developer.
Mills also said that plans are in the works to build a military facility at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.
O’Reilly suggested that banners be strung at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and other efforts be made to advertise St. Croix as a destination.
In addition to O’Reilly’s complaints, Sen. Celestino White took the Port Authority to task for its efforts to solicit proposals for taxi operations at airports and marine facilities.
Mills said the agency started with Cyril E. King Airport because the franchise with the V.I. Taxi Association had expired and that the Port Authority staff felt it could tackle only one facility to start with.
“We’re trying to make sure we get the best deal for the Port Authority,” Mills said.
Although Mills said V.I. Taxi could bid for the operation, White was incensed. He claimed the Port Authority had a vendetta against V.I. Taxi because of a court case in which the agency was supposed to pay $100,000 to the taxi group.
“Leave V.I. Taxi alone or you will get in a cat fight,” White said.
White said he had legislation in the hopper that would give V.I. Taxi an exclusive franchise to operate at Cyril E. King Airport.
“We are going to preempt you,” he said to Mills.
White was also angry about the situation at Bournefield Housing owned by the Port Authority. The Port Authority had tried to move the tenants out of the dilapidated housing, but under pressure reversed its decision.
Port Authority engineer Dale Gregory said the renovation project is going out to bid.
During questioning, Port Authority Human Resources Director Milton Potter said that the former director, which was Kenn Hobson, now has a contract with the Port Authority valued at $75,000. As director, he earned $128,000. Potter didn’t say what Hobson was doing to earn the $75,000.
Mills spend about 50 minutes throwing out an array of figures and statistics concerning passenger arrivals, passenger facility fees and much, much more. After many pages of testimony, the bottom line was that the Port Authority has a budget of $41.9 million for Fiscal Year 2013, up from $40.2 million in FY12.
Like the Port Authority, WICO does not get any money from the local government’s General Fund although the government’s Public Finance Authority owns WICO. WICO directly owns the Havensight docks and manages the adjacent Havensight Mall for the Government Employees Retirement System.
As part of its agreement with the government, WICO is supposed to make an annual payment in lieu of taxes to the General Fund. The post audit report indicates the figure stands at the larger of $700,000 or 10 percent of its annual net revenue.
However, Sen. Carlton Dowe and some of his colleagues pointed out that WICO has repeatedly wiggled out of it by claiming it doesn’t have the cash.
According to Boschulte, WICO plans to borrow $1.8 million to make capital improvements to the Havensight Dock to accommodate the larger cruise ships expected to call. However, Boschulte said, it has not yet lined up the funding source.
While Boschulte didn’t discuss many details of WICO’s budget, the Legislature’s Post Audit analysis shows it projected 2012 revenues at $8.8 million.
During questioning, Boschulte said that members of the board of directors receive $1,500 for each of the four scheduled board meetings they attend, plus the same amount for special meetings. The chairman gets $2,000, Boschulte said.
Unlike WICO and the Port Authority, the Bureau of Information Technology does get its funding from the government. Acting Director Reuben Molloy asked the senators to approve a $4.2 million budget.
Dowe, White and O’Reilly all expressed frustration with the slow pace of progress at the bureau.
“You have to understand how, year after year, the same promises are made and nothing happens,” O’Reilly said.
She went on to give Molloy an earful of advice on ways to do better on the job. Molloy said he just got the position one month ago and vowed that it would be a different story at next year’s budget hearings.
In addition to Dowe, O’Reilly and White, Sens. Janette Millin-Young and Shawn Michael Malone attended some of the meeting. Sens. Louis P. Hill and Sammuel Sanes were absent.
Sens. Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Ronald Russell and Craig Barshinger, who do not serve on the Finance Committee, put in appearances to ask questions.