St. John Capital Improvement Fund Mostly Spent on Non-Capital Improvements

The St. John Capital Improvement Fund, which was established to fund capital and infrastructure improvements to the island, receives about $1.5 million in revenues each year, and over the past four fiscal years the government has allocated about $10.5 million, according to a long-requested report.

After more than four months, the V.I. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) finally provided St. John Tradewinds with the accounting records of the St. John Capital Improvement Fund dating from fiscal year 2002, which shows the fund is mostly spent on projects which aren’t related to capital improvements.

The bulk of the St. John funding goes to the Department of Public Works, which was granted more than $6.3 million over the past four fiscal years—more than half of which was spent for transportation of solid waste to St. Thomas and maintenance of the Cruz Bay waste water plant.

Other DPW allocations include funds for repair and maintenance of roads. An additional $3 million was appropriated to the department, but not actually allocated.

Appropriations Not Allotments
“The appropriation is what the senate passes in a bill,” said Debra Gottlieb, deputy director at OMB. “But what the senate passes isn’t always what gets allocated. The allotment is what OMB is able to grant based on the request from the agency and the balance of the fund.”

Total obligation is the amount of money that is actually released to a department.

For example, in fiscal year 2002, $200,000 was appropriated to both public schools on St. John for equipment and supplies; however, the schools actually received no funding for that appropriation.

Appropriations Not Allotted
“There can be a number of reasons for appropriations that don’t get allotted,” said Gottlieb. “Usually it is because we didn’t get a request from the agency, or there isn’t enough revenue in the fund.”

The Department of Education doesn’t receive much money from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund. The fund is, however, designated for infrastructure and capital projects, not school improvements.

In total, the Department of Education was appropriated $470,865 from the fund, but was actually granted $10,135. The funds covered expenses for musical instruments for both schools.

Other non-capital projects that received funding from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund were the Department of Health and the Office of the Adjutant General.

Departments Siphon Money
“A number of agencies and departments siphon off money from this fund,” said Senator at Large Craig Barshinger. “For example, hauling trash is not a capital improvement. We need to have a fund so we can improve the infrastructure on rapidly-developing St. John.”

“The fund should be for just that—capital improvements,” he added.

The amount of money allotted from the fund makes it seem like there are a number of projects on St. John addressing the serious infrastructure problems on the island.

“Right now it’s an illusion,” said Barshinger. “It makes it look like St. John is focused on its capital improvements, but there are so may things in that budget that don’t have anything to do with St. John’s capital improvements.”

When the St. John Capital Improvement Fund was established, the legislation defining which departments and agencies could use the fund was vague, according to Sen. Barshinger.

If the public supports changing the language of the fund to make it more restrictive, Sen. Barshinger said he could propose legislation.

Good Time to Change Legislation
“It’s a good time for me to redefine this Capital Improvement Fund,” he said. “Once the V.I. Waste Management Authority (WMA) takes over the waste management situation, we can tidy things up and make sure that the fund gets appropriations every year.”

“We can also ensure that the money is used thoughtfully for projects that will improve our infrastructure,” the senator added. The recently established WMA was awarded its own funding and budget with which to handle garbage hauling, maintenance to the waste water plant and other waste-related costs on St. John.

This would free up more than $1 million of the Capital Improvement Fund each year, that could be used for actual capital improvements, according to recent expenditures from the fund.