If officials are shocked by the recent census numbers which stated the U.S. Virgin Islands population has dropped 18.1%, they had better get ready for the next wave of people moving away from the Virgin Islands.

Let’s talk about the whys.

High cost of living, to include food prices that have reached outrageous limits, high power costs, along with constant power failures which interrupt business and revenue; high cost of hurricane insurance; nonexistent affordable care act for health care; lack of affordable housing and low entry level salaries for people with much needed skills.

Looming right ahead is the specter of the Government Employees’ Retirement System collapse, which is due in the relatively near future. This upcoming issue — the day when retirement checks stop — will see an exodus to the mainland because it will be the nail in the coffin for many to stay in the Virgin Islands. People simply will not be able to afford to stay where they have lived and worked their entire lives.

What solutions should we consider to counteract this problem? Should we sell WAPA to a private entity? Work harder at increasing tourism revenue? Sell unused and derelict government buildings? Cut operating expenses for our government, perhaps using Zoom more often instead of paying for huge traveling delegations consisting of dozens of people to investigate new ideas?

Should we outsource our prison system, and consolidate our government offices under one roof? Should we aggressively pursue outstanding property tax debt that is owed to the people of the Virgin Islands, and will we sit down at a table to figure out what will happen the day after GERS collapses?

Multi-tasking many crises takes organization and teams of people skilled in all these areas. The people of the Virgin Islands elect and trust people to solve these complex problems. The community perception, unfortunately, sees many of these problems as being handled reactively, instead of proactively. We also know that doing the right thing, taking the right path, is often hard and unpleasant and unpopular. It takes people with integrity and nerves of steel to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few.

Changing course is difficult, however critically necessary. If we don’t take the initiative to make difficult decisions now, will the last one off the island please turn off the lights if they are still on.

— Maria Ferreras is a longtime St. Thomas resident and community volunteer. She can be reached at maria@dailynews.vi.