Sparse attendance at Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen’s Wednesday evening, February 21, listening session at the St. John Legislature building, turned the meeting into an informal discussion between residents and the delegate.
Christensen started off the meeting by updating residents on several issues affecting the Virgin Islands that she is working on.
“I was hoping to come here and say the property tax bill had left the Senate,” said Christensen of a bill that would repeal a 1936 law which prohibits caps on property taxes. “There are no objections to it, so we’re hoping it will pass any day now.”
Christensen also discussed moving the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay, a topic that several residents commented on.
Coral Bay resident Bonny Corbeil asked the delegate about the recently discussed possibility of combining the public school with the private Gifft Hill School to form a charter school, which Corbeil described as a “win-win situation for everyone.”
“I’ve stayed away from what kind of school it will be,” said Christensen. “I haven’t been a part of that discussion. We just need to get that school out of town.”
St. Johnian Alvis Christian asked whether a proposed 10-acre parcel under consideration for the school is big enough to accommodate all of the school’s needs.
“Where is the research that says 10 acres is enough for a school?” said Christian. “Why lock yourself in?”
It is the responsibility of the local government to determine the amount of land it needs for a school, according to Christensen.
Quality of Education Questioned
“If the local government wants a school, they need to determine how much land they need,” said the delegate. “This is a negotiation process. There are supposedly two equal sides negotiating this issue.”
Christensen vowed to bring up the land swap with the V.I. National Park for a school during a Thursday morning, February 22, meeting with Gov. John deJongh.
The quality of education on St. John was brought up by St. John resident Kristin Cox, whose child attends public school.
“A lot of enrollment is down because people are either moving away or going to private schools,” said Cox. “I want the government to look at the students who are no longer enrolled. With the amount of taxes we pay here, we should have good public education.”
“Parents shouldn’t have to consider homeschooling,” Cox continued. “The government has failed me once again.”
The issue of municipal government on St. John was raised by Corbeil at the listening session.
“There is so much dysfunction, systematically,” said Corbeil. “We need a municipal government.”
Christensen suggested that municipal government is an issue best discussed in the upcoming Constitutional Convention.
“There’s a new bill that would clarify the Virgin Islands has the authority to create municipal government,” said Christensen. “We could use a little more clarity. I think municipal government would be best done in the Constitutional Convention.”
Border patrol has been one of Christensen’s priorities, and the delegate’s announcement that Homeland Security officials are planning an April visit to the V.I. elicited several comments from residents at the listening session.
“At a recent Coral Bay Community Council meeting, three to four people spoke of incidents of illegal aliens coming on island they personally witnessed,” said CBCC president Sharon Coldren. “They were willing to stand up at a public meeting and say this.”
‘Expensive, Ugly Gates’
Coldren suggested reviewing a map with Homeland Security officials to show them where aliens most often enter the island.
Cox, who works in rental villa management, often hears complaints about the gate at the Cruz Bay ferry dock, she said.
“The gate is very offensive to guests who visit the island,” said Cox. “Welcome to Alcatraz — that’s the feeling people are getting.”
Coldren echoed Cox’s sentiments regarding the ferry dock gate.
“Instead of border patrol, we get expensive ugly gates that do nothing for us,” said Coldren. “The government shouldn’t be absurd.”
Christensen acknowledged the gate’s ineffectiveness.
“The fence does nothing anyway,” said the delegate. “Cameras are a way to get more lasting information.”
Several residents shared their frustrations regarding having packages mailed to the V.I. from the states.
“These problems occur because we are inside the immigration zone, but outside the customs zone,” said Christensen. “I don’t see why, because we are the U.S., shipping can’t be done on the domestic market. We’ve been working on this for a long time, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.”
The relationship between the USVI and the BVI was questioned in the wake of the arrest of a local fisherman who was fined $30,000 while in BVI waters.
“It seems to me that something more amicable could be worked out,” said Lovango Cay resident Wally Leopold.
“You’d think so,” replied Christensen. “We ought to be able to work out something better. We had hopes that the former governor could establish a better relationship because of his Tortola background.”
Christensen was scheduled to continue her listening sessions on St. Thomas and St. Croix last week.