A long-overdue debt to a contractor that helped clean up after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 is closer to being settled, after senators in the Committee on Rules and Judiciary approved a bill that transfers $3.53 million to the V.I. Justice Department.
Joe Harold, doing business as Vanterpool Enterprises, was contracted by Gov. Roy L. Schneider’s administration to help perform repairs after Marilyn and subsequent storms destroyed many public facilities on St. Thomas and St. John, according to an opinion filed by V.I. Superior Court Judge Renee Gumbs Carty in November. But the government simply failed to fully pay, leaving Harold to fight for years for the money he was owed.
“The Government has not alleged that any of his work was faulty or incomplete, and it likely still benefits from Vanterpool’s work to this day,” Gumbs Carty wrote.
“Its attempt to avoid paying for nearly $6 million in services that it has repeatedly acknowledged were performed is indefensible. And as the Virgin Islands Supreme Court recognized, it is also bad public policy.”
Senators in Thursday’s committee hearing acknowledged the Virgin Islands government has a terrible track record of failing to pay vendors. Sen. Franklin Johnson said the government can’t expect businesses to pay taxes when the government is contracting with some of those same businesses and then not paying them.
We cannot continue to allow the people who are doing business here in the Virgin Islands to continue to suffer at the hands of the government,” said Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory.
Bill No. 34-0024 appropriated $3.53 million to the Justice Department to pay a settlement agreement to Vanterpool, as well as $2 million to the Labor Department to pay outstanding worker’s compensation payments to medical providers. The bill also included $40,000 for Clean Sweep Frederiksted for its ongoing beautification efforts, and senators heaped praise on the group’s tremendous efforts so far.
Senators voted to approve several other measures, including Bill No. 34-0013, which appropriates $2.05 million from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for replacement of the existing, deteriorated tender landing pier and repairs at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Terminal in Frederiksted, St. Croix.
Bill No. 34-0014 appropriates $16 million from the Communities Facilities Trust Account for the four community facilities projects on St. Croix, including the projects of the pier at King’s Alley Hotel in Christiansted, the dock at Gallows Bay Marine Facility and the roll-on roll-off ramp at the Gordon A. Finch Molasses Pier at Krause Lagoon.
Bill No. 34-0008 appropriates $272,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for of the Police Athletic League Headquarters in Estate Whim, a group that also received warm praise from senators.
Bill No. 34-0020 appropriates $675,000 from the Community Facility Trust Fund to the Caribbean Drag Racing Association for restoration of facilities at the St. Croix Motor Sports Complex.
Senators said the bill is a safety measure that will help provide an outlet for those interested in motor sports, and help curb illegal drag racing on public roads.
Bill No. 34-0003 requires the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to create a new, online permitting system within 18 months of the law’s passage. Bill sponsor Frett-Gregory said the measure is long overdue, and aims to help reduce the inefficiency of a paper system for both applicants and the government.
Bill No. 34-0023, which establishes the Invasive Species Eradication Community Program and appropriates $10,000 to pay bounties to individuals who kill invasive species, was initiated in response to the proliferation of invasive snake species on St. Croix.
But bill sponsor Sen. Kenneth Gittens said the measure allows DPNR to create bounties for other invasive species as needed, a technique that has proven effective in other jurisdictions battling unwanted new pests.
Senators voted to send Bill No. 34-0004 back to the Finance Committee. The bill seeks to change the way fuel taxes are reported and paid, and Gittens said it needs further review before being considered by the full Legislature.