On Friday, February 28, 2020, St Croix Chamber Members, guests, and the press came together at the Buccaneer Resort to review the Chamber’s accomplishments over the past year and to swear in new members Abigail Atwood, Mcgarvey “Darren” Henry, and Akeel St. Jean to the Board of Directors. The Chamber also welcomed the honorable Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. as the keynote speaker.
In his keynote address, Governor Bryan outlined his administration’s successes and challenges since taking office in January 2019. In his speech, he stressed the importance of opportunities available to the Territory as a result of federal monies coming in following Irma and Maria. Following his address, he took the time to answer questions posed by the membership and guests.
Among the highlights of his address and q&a were the following:
- The Governor addressed the St Croix Chamber’s opposition to WAPA rate increases by stating jovially “No Governor in their right mind would say we want the rate to be higher”. The Territory’s financial situation was partly due to three decades of rebuilding the entire infrastructure three times but now the Government is in the position to spend two billion dollars territory-wide to bury powerlines. A temporary rate increase in the meantime should allow the Authority to refinance outstanding debt that currently costs the Territory upwards of $2.5 million per month in interest due to the current 15% interest rate.
- The net metering program has been reopened. WAPA also now has the ability to install their own solar fields generating up to 8 megawatts of renewable power without incurring any new debt.
- The department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs has shortened the length of time it takes to issue a business license. They continue working to remove impediments like Tax Clearance letters and other requirements like the CZM process to deregulate and make business licensing more efficient.
- As the “Technology Governor” Bryan is working with his team to bring more GVI offices online. Cars can now be registered online. Included in that is the launch of transparency.vi.gov that lists Government budgets, expenditures, and various agencies. Additionally, you’ll find access to Government payroll information, revenues, and vendor payments. Only $1.5 Billion of the $8 Billion of the monies allocated to the Territory for recovery has been spent to date.
- Tourism continues to talk to air carriers and cruise lines to increase travel to the islands. Small ships will be solicited for docking at Gallows Bay. RFPs are going out for the Hotel on the Cay lease coming up this fall. There is a $7 million renovation scheduled for the Henry Rohlsen airport to enhance the visitor experience.
- The modular hospital will be functional as of this summer. Currently, the Territory is paying up to $250,000 per patient to fly them to Miami when treatment is not available on St Croix due to the state of the Juan F Luis Hospital.
- The Virgin Islands is pushing for more Telehealth opportunities like those currently available at Plessen Healthcare
- Limetree Refinery timeline is behind schedule, however, there are many workers onsite whose salaries contribute to the tax base.
- HUD money is being focused on the towns of Christiansted, Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie including trash removal, beautification, and roadwork.
- Camera systems are being installed on every red light in the Territory as well as in Christiansted town and Frederiksted town in an effort to address crime.
- The Government has partnered with Catholic Charities to outfit and provide more homeless shelters in the Territory. The Governor has convened a Homeless Task Force, headed by Dept of Health and Human Services Commissioner Kimberly Gomez to address the situation.
- While the Governor agreed that the “Wrongful Discharge Act” is ineffective and a nuisance law to businesses – it is a highly politically loaded issue that he does not believe will ever be changed by the Legislature. He does think that he may be able to push to get the temporary employee status extended from six months to a year. The Act applies to employers with five or more workers, and only protects non-supervisory employees who have worked for more than six months at their job.
- The Government is looking at working with the VI Taxi Association to establish a Lyft or Uber-style system to enhance transportation opportunities to visitors and residents alike.
All images courtesy Diane Butler except where noted.