A bill directing the West Indian Company to buy property next to Government House on St. Thomas for the governor’s residence and take the cost out of WICO’s back taxes has become law without Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s signature.
Government House announced the move in a brief statement.
The governor’s housing bill, [31-0295] says the government "acting through the West Indian Company, shall negotiate with the owner of Parcels No. 21, 22, 23 and 24 Dronningen’s Gade, St. Thomas," at appraised prices. It authorizes WICO to rent the properties for up to $8,000 per month until the purchase, should it occur, "and deduct any amount spent from the payment in lieu of property taxes owed to the Government of the Virgin Islands.”
It was special ordered onto the legislative agenda during a Dec. 17 session.
Introducing the measure, Sen. Myron Jackson said that while the federal Revised Organic Act of 1954 requires Government House to be the governor’s residence, Government House was already a complex of buildings, and the adjacent properties could be folded into that complex. The statement from Government House concurs with Jackson’s judgment, saying the "property is to be incorporated into the existing Government House complex so that no amendments to the Organic Act, which require approval by the U.S. Congress, are necessary."
Although federal law states that Government House on St. Thomas is the governor’s official residence, the residential portion of the building is being used as offices, and housing arrangements for the governor have generated controversy and scandal.
Shortly after taking office, Gov. Kenneth Mapp took up residence in a $14,500 per month, nine-bedroom villa. His staff took the lease to the Department of Property and Procurement to have taxpayers pay the lease, but was turned down. Several months later, Chief of Staff Randy Knight took the lease to the government-owned West Indian Company, which voted to pay the lease and deduct the cost from payments in lieu of taxes it owed the government. (See: Knight Asked WICO To Pay Mapp Rent After Property And Procurement Said No in Related Links below)
There is an ongoing court fight over whether WICO must make minutes and transcripts of that meeting accessible to the public. WICO has made some documents, such as the record of the vote, public, but is arguing in court that it is not required to make all the documents public.
Former Gov. John deJongh chose to live in his private home, with some security improvements at taxpayer expense that generated controversy. Claude Walker, Mapp’s attorney general, charged deJongh with misuse of public funds. DeJongh responded in court that the charges were baseless and politically motivated. The V.I. Department of Justice subsequently dismissed all the charges. (See Related Links below)