The $1.5 million annual fund will no longer be used to haul trash from St. John to St. Thomas.
After 20 years of paying for garbage hauling, the St. John Capital Improvement Fund will start paying for Love City capital improvements soon.
The V.I. Senate approved a measure earlier this year that removed solid waste collection and disposal as authorized uses for the $1.5 million annual St. John Capital Improvement Fund.
After being passed by the senate, Governor John deJongh vetoed the measure, claiming that his administration was looking out for Love City, but couldn’t afford to cover the cost of waste hauling to St. Thomas.
On Monday, March 8, the 28th Legislature voted almost unanimously to override deJongh’s veto, with the sole vote against the override coming from Senator Usie Richards.
Senator at Large Craig Barshinger had been working to retool the fund for months.
“It is a very important victory because St. John now actually has a fund which increases every year that can be used for true capital improvements,” said Barshinger. “Every year St. John can count on that money and count on a project.
My colleagues understood the plight of St. John in having a Capital Improvement Fund in name only since it was really a trash hauling fund.”
The victory was as much due to Barshinger’s efforts as it was to the community’s efforts, according to the Senator at Large.
“This was a victory that was won by St. John residents who mobilized and contacted their senators,” said Barshinger. “When I put out the call for people to lobby their senators, St. John residents came through and every single senator got dozens of calls. That is what tipped the balance.”
The $1.5 million annual fund was established in the mid-1980s and was never really used for anything until the Susanaberg garbage dump caught fire in 1990, explained St. John resident Steve Black, who has been a staunch supporter of having the St. John Capital Improvement Fund cover the cost of capital improvements for years.
“We never really actually received any money,” said Black. “The fund was established in 1986 and we were supposed to get $1.5 million each year. The purpose was to address the fact that St. Thomas was, and still is today, getting the lion’s share of everything that goes on.”
“St. Croix and St. John were being neglected,” Black said. “So the senate came up with this plan called the Capital Improvement Fund that was supposed to be for on-going improvements on the islands to make this a little more fair.”
Since it was established, however, the funds were never used to pay for St. John capital improvements, Black explained.
“During the [Governor] Farrelly administration we never had access to those funds,” he said. “There was always some reason why we didn’t and then came the dump fire at Susanaberg in 1990. It was supposed to be the responsibility of
Public Works to put the fire out, but our senator at large at the time forwarded the idea to fund it through the Capital Improvement Fund.”
In total, St. John missed out on about $40 million of money that could have been used to address any number of critical needs, according to Black.
“If you calculate the amount of money that we’ve lost it’s about $40 million,” he said. “Could you imagine what St. John would look like if over these years we would have had access to those funds instead of having that money pay for garbage hauling.”
“We don’t have the pretty town and the nice capital improvements that we should have been getting all these years,” said Black.
Making the Capital Improvement Fund cover the cost of trash hauling makes no sense since the service comes out of residents’ taxes, Black added.
“Not only do we pay for trash services with our taxes, just like St. Croix and St. Thomas, but St. John got an extra tax in the fact that we got singled out as the only island that has to pay for its hauling as well,” said Black. “It’s sad that St. John lost this money so that Public Works and then Waste Management would have access to this money.”
“It is the Waste Management Authority’s job to pay for trash hauling out of their $40 million budget,” Black said. “St. John should not be the supporter of the Waste Management Authority.”
With the fund returned to its original intent, the question now is what to do with the money.
“A really important part of this is determining what and how these funds can be used,” said Black. “I think it should be a choice of our community to help steer some of these projects. I no longer feel that our government is looking out for the best interest of St. John.”
The funds can be earmarked for any project, once a bill is approved by the senate, Barshinger explained.
“Any senator can draft a bill for a proposed use of the funds,” said the senator. “I plan on sponsoring a bill to use this money for capital improvements on St. John, of which there is not shortage of needs.”