The St. John Capital Improvement Fund, which was originally established in 1983, was amended in 2001 with wording that drastically altered how the fund could be appropriated.
When it was it first written, the fund was exclusively set aside for capital improvements. The 2001 amendment to the fund, however, expanded how the fund could be spent.
All monies deposited in such fund shall be appropriated by law exclusively for capital improvements projects, road maintenance, solid waste collection and disposal, and for the maintenance and operation of the sewage system on the island of St. John, according to the amended definition of the St. John Capital Improvement Fund.
Definition Changed in 2001
The amendment was passed by the V.I. Senate in 2001, but many residents only realized the change after St. John Tradewinds was able to get an accounting of expenditures from the fund and published an article in its Feb. 13-19 edition detailing the expenditure of more than $1 million per year from the fund on garbage hauling and road repairs.
The issue of the Capital Improvement Fund has come up a number of times since 2001 and no one knew that the wording was changed, said longtime St. John community activist Steve Black. I would like to know who wrote this bill and who voted in favor of it. I was blown away by this when I found out.
Verbiage Protects Misappropriations
Black said he has been trying to obtain the records of the St. John fund since 1990.
I asked Schneider for information about this 16 years ago, he said. We were always interested in how that money was spent. Its interesting that after years of asking about thiswith no responsethe bill that established the fund was changed. They put in verbiage that protects the stealing our capital improvement funds.
We certainly need to be sure that there is money for infrastructure improvements on St. John, said Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council. Money for basic operations shouldnt come out of this fund.
$1 Million Annually for Garbage
A central issue in this debate is the roughly $1 million appropriated annually to the Department of Public Works for garbage hauling.
Garbage disposal falls under the Department of Public Works and they have their own budget, so why are getting money from the capital improvement fund, questioned Black.
The official wording of the fund was changed to bail out the Department of Public Works, according to Black.
Violation of Original Intent
I want to find out who came up with changing the wording from being only for capital improvement to bailing out the public works, he said.
Where do you see that the sewage system of St. Croix or St. Thomas is paid for by their capital improvement funds? he questioned. Some senators passed this bill permitting this to take place, which is a violation of the original intent of the capital improvement fund.
To address this inconsistency, Senator at Large Craig Barshinger of St. John said he will propose a bill to change the wording of the St. John Capital Improvement Fund definition so the money is used for capital improvements only.
New Legislation Needed
Clearly, solid waste collection is not a capital improvement, he said. I will gladly introduce legislation to revise the definition and handling of the St. John Capital Improvement Fund.
Black alleges the fund has been misappropriated since 1990, at a staggering cost to tax payers.
Our funds have been misused for over 16 years, since we first requested this information, said Black. The fund gets $1.5 million a year. After 16 years, that comes out to $24 million.
Our government has fraudulently, pre-meditatively, and with no remorse, stolen these funds from our island and misused our islands economy, he continued. There should be some accounting. I suggest that the government repay all of these funds with interest, Black added.