Democratic Party Debates on St. John for First Time

St. John residents took advantage of the opportunity to make an informed decision in the September 9 primary by attending the St. John Democratic Club’s three-night debate, showcasing Democratic candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Govern-or and St. Thomas-St. John District Senator.

Audience members wrote questions for the candidates on index cards which were collected and given to debate moderators who asked each question randomly.

The candidates were questioned in the order they were sitting, and each candidate was given the chance to provide a rebuttal to each question.

After introducing themselves to the audience, the candidates running for Lieutenant Governor — Gregory Francis, Lorraine Berry and Roy Jackson — responded to the numerous questions posed by the audience at the Saturday evening, August 26, debate.

Hearing St. John Concerns
Making sure the people of St. John are heard was one of the concerns raised by audience members.

“We will develop an ombudsman position who will record the concerns of St. John residents and give it to the St. John Administrator,” said Berry, who has served in the V.I. Senate for the past 24 years. “The administrator will be similar to a mayor. This is a new approach.”

Moving the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay by swapping land with the V.I. National Park was discussed several times at the Lieutenant Governor debate.

Moving School Provides Space
“Moving the school will provide ample space for government offices, eliminating the need for St. John residents to travel to St. Thomas to deal with government matters,” said Francis. “The government of the Virgin Islands ought to stop talking and move to construct an education complex on St. John to accommodate grades kindergarten through 12.”

While Berry does support moving the school, she is concerned about the proposal to swap government-owned cays with the VINP, she said.

“Several groups of fishermen are concerned about the status of the cays,” Berry said. “We need to have kindergarten through 12th grade on St. John, which would probably help with other social problems, but we have to be sensitive to the land we are swapping.”

Jackson urged community input on the subject of moving the school.

“Input from the community will always enhance a better decision,” he said.

Vendors Plaza Provides Jobs
The vendors plaza, slated to be constructed on the Cruz Bay waterfront, was another popular issue at the Lieutenant Governor debates.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” said Jackson. “People need to know that the only job out there is not a government job. Our people should be encouraged to go into business.”

“We must encourage our people to be providing jobs for themselves and other people,” Jackson added.

In order to address residents’ distrust of the government and to ensure St. John residents’ tax dollars are used appropriately, Francis plans to remove the tax assessor’s office from the office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Move Tax Assessor To IRB
“We have to look at the total picture,” said Francis. “Moving the tax assessor to the Internal Revenue Board will provide a better form of collection and accountability for the Virgin Islands.”

Francis also plans to remove the Division of Banking and Insurance from the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

“We will remove it from the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and we will put pros in there to get the job done,” he said.

To provide opportunities for V.I. high school graduates who want to improve themselves, but do not want to go to college, Berry plans to develop a career training program in both districts, plus a hospitality training school.

Jackson said he plans to encourage partnerships with corporations who will offer the experience of working on the job.

Packed House for Gov. Hopefuls Democratic candidates for Governor John DeJongh, Edgar Ross and Vargrave Richards discussed a number of issues relevant specifically to St. John.

Support Land Swap for School
All three candidates pledged their support of a land swap with the V.I. National Park for the relocation of the island’s public schools. It has been proposed that the V.I. government swap environmentally sensitive off-shore cays with the VINP for a mid-island track of land to house an education complex including a high school.

The idea has been on the drawing board for years, and each of the candidates promised to make it a reality.

All candidates pledged to work on solving the parking dilemma in Cruz Bay and increasing police patrols in town to cut down on the ever increasing crime rate.

Another major discussion revolved around how to define the role of the Island Administrator, which has historically been to act as the governor’s representative. The candidates promised to examine the job and determine if the St. John Administrator should act more as a mayor or as a manager for the island.

Municipal Government Supported
The long-discussed issue of municipal governments was another central topic for the evening. DeJongh, Ross and Richards all pledged their support for the idea, but also pointed out that an effectively-run government makes the need for localized-power obsolete.

Eight of the 10 Democratic St. Thomas-St. John District Senator hopefuls came out for the final evening of the debates on Monday, August 28.

Athneil Thomas, Niles Russell, Basil Ottley Jr., Horace Brooks, Alvin Williams, Shirley Sadler, Rev. Toi Barbel and Patrick Sprauve squared off on issues ranging from property tax revaluation to border protection.

A number of other boom towns across the U.S. are experiencing similar problems as Love City, such as rising land prices and skyrocketing property taxes, explained Ottley.

“We should look at other states that are dealing with the same issues and see what their solutions are,” Ottley said.

Thomas suggested tax breaks to long-time landowners to off-set rising property taxes.

“Our government spends a lot of time giving tax breaks to people who don’t need them,” Thomas said. “My first initiative would be to find a way to give tax breaks to landowners.”

Williams suggested cutting administrative costs at the Department of Education to free up more money for teachers’ salaries and classroom expenses.

“The Department of Education needs fiscal responsibility,” Wiliams said.

Brooks said the lack of funds at the Department of Education is not a money problem, but a money management problem.

“The entire department needs re-structuring and we must increase our starting teacher salary to attract more educators to the territory,” Brooks said.

When discussing the relocation of the public schools, Sprauve pledged his support.

“If it doesn’t happen before my term, I’ll work on it when I get there,” he said. “This is not something that can sit on someone’s desk — the Julius E. Sprauve School must move right away.”

Start on Island School by November
“We must have the site picked out and the development started no later than November,” Sprauve said. “That’s what we’re pushing for.”

Russell suggested investigating alternative sources of energy to combat rising electricity bills.

“WAPA’s rates are tied to the cost of fuel,” he said. “WAPA must look at other energy sources if we are ever going to see our utility bills decrease.”

As the territory tries to handle the influx of illegal immigrants, serious concerns about the spread of tuberculosis should be addressed, according to Barbel.

“We need more education, that is the first step,” she said. “We must educate our dock workers and our airport personnel about the symptoms of tuberculosis. The fear of a breakout is ever increasing and we must start with education.”

Balanced Development
St. John needs balanced development and long-term planning, according to Sadler.

“I want to see the government establish a planner for the island,” Sadler said. “We must see just how much land is still available here and then implement a plan for balanced development.”

Julius E. Sprauve School and Guy Benjamin H. School polling stations will be open for the Democratic party primary election September 9.