Gov. deJongh Gives State of the Territory Address

Gov. John deJongh

The following are excerpts pertaining to St. John from Governor John deJongh’s Tuesday evening, January 22, State of the Territory Address:

We are also moving ahead with the new school for St. John, and are working with the Delegate and our congressional allies to gain the cooperation of the National Park Service in providing the land that is necessary.

In agriculture, we have filled vacancies and provided resources to a department that has long been unable to provide needed services. We identified and secured acreage in Coral Bay, St. John to lease to residents interested in crop production –– a first time opportunity for St. John residents.

In the area of Tourism development and marketing, we have made fundamental changes in how we approach our partners and how we market to our visitors. We will not wait for them to come to us, we have decided to go and seek them out. Our overall territorial strategy is to grow the number of tourists that visit our islands, but also to acknowledge that each island has its own unique offering. We aim to increase cruise ship passengers to St. Croix while attracting more affordable air lift, and anticipate that in 2008 at least two of the proposed hotel development projects will put a shovel in the ground. Our efforts with the Marine Action Group and World Ocean School, and more focus on career and technical education, are indicative of the potential we attribute to the marine industry, especially with the completion of Yacht Haven, the re-development activity planned for Gallows Bay and plans for marinas on St. John.

On St. John, we have funded the principal planner position and are again advertising the position. We have met with the Urban Land Institute so that they can assist us in jump-starting the planning process once the St. John planner is on-board. The island of St. John offers a unique experience to both visitors and locals. It is now time for us to tap this potential as a positive and to toss away the restrictions that have blinded us to the possibilities.

The land ownership of the National Park must be taken for the positive role that it plays and the reality that it represents to our economy. The National Park must be seen to be, and must as act as, a part of this community. Yet, as we re-define and re-establish these relationships we must also keep our house in order and acknowledge that on St. John we have allowed certain development to proceed that can be viewed as nothing short of questionable and threatening to the environment, and therefore more in the interest of special interests than the overall community.

But that was yesterday; today we must push forward with development that is consistent with the environment and within the legal rights of landowners to undertake. The role of the principal planner will be paramount to our project analysis and execution in resolving the issues of Cruz Bay parking, taxicab dispatching, relocation of the Sprauve School, public land usage, marina development, and affordable and moderate-income housing. And each requires improved provision of government services to the public as well as greater coordination of those services which are provided by licensed private businesses, especially those who have been granted franchises or who are using government facilities or government property. But, I also know that we need to do more for our senior citizens and children. I have heard the shouts of young St. Johnians to fix their basketball court and field, and provide more recreational programs. And with the signing of the lease for a senior center between the Virgin Islands Housing Authority and the Department of Human Services, we have begun to address concerns raised by our seniors.

As to taxes, it is time to talk bluntly about real property taxes. I have sent you a bill which awaits final action. We are all aware that the increase in property values across the territory, and especially on St. John, created a problem that had to be addressed. This is why my proposal went to great lengths to mitigate the impact of the new property valuations on the vast majority of our home and property owners. The Legislature has passed a budget that included the revenues that were to be generated by real property taxes, well aware that real property tax reform was a precondition, a required first step. It is now time to take that step. We cannot pretend that the budget for the government of the Virgin Islands passed by this Legislature, signed by me, did not include an increase in real property tax revenues.