Barshinger Displays Anger, Demands Accounting of St. John Capital Fund

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The public property across from the Cruz Bay Creek bulkhead could be a Vendor’s Plaza for St. John farmers and craftspeople — if the Senate can find where the deJongh Administration put the millions missing from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund. The site is occupied by several businesses on month-to-month leases with the government and a large green storage tank with unknown content.

CRUZ BAY –  With seven months left in his tenure, St. John Senator at Large Craig Barshinger was raising his voice – almost shouting, shaking his fist and striking his podium/desk at the V.I. Legislature on St. John promising to fight for the millions of tax dollars missing from St. John Capital Improvements Fund during his last two terms in office.

A discussion before the Senate Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation on the status of planning for a legislated St. John Vendors Plaza on Thursday evening, May 29, turned into a one-sided war of words after senators were told there was no money for the project in the St. John Capital Improvements Funds

Sen. Barshinger then took to the bully pulpit claiming that approximately $4 million had been “thiefed” from the St. John capital account.

The St. John senator threatened to sue the V.I. government to secure the missing years of the mandated annual $1.5 million appropriation to the fund that appear to have been redirected by the deJongh Administration.

“Somebody… Thiefed the Money”
“This project should have been funded,” Sen. Barshinger said. “Somebody down there (Government House) thiefed the money from our pocket.”

Committee members had been expecting to hear testimony regarding the government’s progress in constructing a vendor plaza on St. John. Act. No. 7267 appropriates $300,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund in fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, to build a traditional vendors plaza on St. John for items that are made, grown, or harvested in the Virgin Islands.

The few audience members remaining for the second item on the agenda at the V.I. Legislature committee hearing on the status of creating a vendor’s plaza or market for native arts, crafts and produce in Cruz Bay, were treated to a stentorian pronouncement by typically soft-spoken and reasonable legislator.

Cruz Bay Creek Site Identified
Government officials St. John Administrator Leona Smith, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr.  and V.I. Tourism Deputy Commissioner Monique Sibilly Hodge reported that as a committee they had identified a site for the Vendors Plaza but had stopped planning meetings when they were informed the St. John fund was ‘over-committed” by Senate appropriations and there was no funding for the Vendors Plaza project.

“Funds weren’t readily accessible since the fund was over-appropriated,” according to the search committee members.

The government-owned property identified for the Vendors Plaza is across from the Cruz Bay Creek bulkhead, which has become an arrival and departure point for the steadily increasing cruise ship passenger day tours and charter boat passenger operations in addition to the inter-island travelers.

The property currently houses tenants Denzil Clyne Jeep Rental, the Our Market store and another small retail booth.

Annual Appropriation “Disappeared”?
Sen. Barshinger, questioned the deJongh administration’s contention that the St. John fund has a negative balance and said the government’s mandated $1.5 million annual contribution to the fund been misappropriated, un-allocated or otherwise “disappeared.”

“The St. John Capital Improvements Fund has a negative balance of $3.9, almost $4 million, and $9 million in encumbrances, although some funds encumbered may no longer be needed,” said Senate Post Auditor George. The Post Auditor said he requested an accounting from Government House in January which has not been proffered.

Sen. Barshinger had a different accounting of the St. John Fund which is supposed to receive $1.5 million in property taxes from the General Fund each year and hasn’t been tapped for authorized expenditures in recent years.

“There are no encumbrances,” the St. John Senator at Large added. “Only the legislature can make encumbrances.”

“The balance is $5 million,” Sen. Barshinger said. “On November 16, 2011, the ending balance was $5,972,495.37. We know the starting point was $6 million.”

“They are giving him a runaround,” Sen. Bar-shinger said of the administration’s delay in providing an accounting of the St. John fund to the Senate’s Post Auditor George.

“I am about getting (the governor) to let St. John spend its capital improvement funds,” said Sen. Barshinger, who hasn’t ruled out a return to V.I. politics including a future run to regain his current seat.

Three Licensed St. John Craftspeople
There are only three licensed crafts people on St. John, officials acknowledged.

“Artists and craftsmen deserve an outlet,” testified Delroy “Ital” Anthony, one of the few professional crafts people on St. John. “A vendors plaza can survive.”

Former Senator at Large Dr. Gilbert Sprauve, brought historical perspective to the debate

“If my memory serves me right the vendor’s plaza goes back to the 14th Legislature,” Dr. Sprauve said in impromptu testimony. “From 1980 I am seeing that it hasn’t happened.”

“The public’s interest in a Vendors Plaza site has been eroded election after election,” Dr. Sprauve told the senators and hearing audience.

Tenants and Oil Tank
The existing tenants on the proposed Vendors Plaza site won’t be asked to vacate their month-to-month leases until the vendors plaza project is further along in planning and development, the government officials acknowledged.

Unfortunately, the search committee members reported the property identified for the project also contains an abandoned government-owned green metal storage tank which they acknowledge may contain some unknown amount of nefarious, albeit unknown, substance — which could require additional appropriated funding.