Senate committee OKs bill increasing streetlight surcharge on property taxes

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ST. THOMAS - The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill to increase the streetlight surcharge on the territory's property tax bills.

The move is expected to bring in an additional $2.1 million a year to the V.I. Water and Power Authority, although utility officials say it is not nearly enough.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, will raise the existing surcharge from 4 percent to 6 percent of property taxes collected.

"We knew that the increase to 6 percent would not be sufficient to cover all of the streetlights but we felt that it would be a step in the right direction," Rivera-O'Reilly said.

Sen. Clifford Graham said collections into the fund look healthy, but that is because the government has been collecting two years' worth of property taxes each year. Starting in 2015, that annual collection will drop as the territory will be caught up and only issuing property tax bills once a year.

WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said that while the extra $2.1 million is appreciated, it is not enough to sustain the streetlight program. He suggested adding a surcharge to monthly WAPA bills, similar to the surcharge that was removed from bills several years ago.

The property tax surcharge bill was approved and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

Senators voting in favor of the bill were Graham, Sen. Judi Buckley, Sen. Donald Cole, Rivera-O'Reilly, Sen. Myron Jackson, and Sen. Terrence Nelson.

Sen. Clarence Payne III was absent.

Two other bills were held in committee for further review:

- A bill allowing government employees to retire without penalty even if the government has failed to pay all of its employer contributions into the Government Employees Retirement System.

- A bill authorizing the V.I. Public Finance Authority to issue a $30 million loan guaranty for Wintdots Development, a company owned by the Elskoe family seeking to develop Flagberry Hill.

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