V.I.'s future depends on change now to unified, comprehensive reforms
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This is the most beautiful season in the Virgin Islands. The earth's axial tilt causes the sun to shine with a brilliance that gives the islands a golden glow and soothing warmth mixed with refreshing trade winds. With that in mind, I will take the time to compliment the Department of Public Works for the improvement in the maintenance of the roadsides on St. Croix. I hope that it is the same on St. Thomas-St. John-Water Island. The matter of litter can be improved in some areas, but the roadsides on St. Croix, in general, are much improved since November 2012. It greatly improves our environmental ambience.
Assistant Commissioner Dennis Brow disappointed me in 2012. Our Town Frederiksted requested a meeting with him and he never responded. However, his lack of accessibility was timely: St. Croix had no flooding during the 2012 hurricane season.
The ramifications of flooding due to our failing drainage and "gut" system in Frederiksted - although it is common knowledge. The high surf from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 resulted in a small pond on the north end of the Frederiksted parking lot from Harden Gut runoff. This occurred due to backwash up Harden Gut from its mouth on Frederiksted Beach. Stagnant water gives the Aedes Aegypti mosquito perfect breeding ground. The Aedes Aegypti is a carrier of dengue, yellow fever and other diseases.
I have not stopped pursuing Frederiksted's drainage problem. Knowing the burden of proof is on my shoulders, I am awaiting this year's rainfall to see if I will be able to take current photographs of the effects of flooding on Frederiksted's streets and buildings.
Meanwhile, I am hoping that some government department is working on the situation. Perhaps it will be part of the Frederiksted ballpark renovations.
While reviewing areas of funding for historic district property rehabilitation, I discovered that the Historic Preservation Office - the HPO - has no funds to aid with rehabilitation. My understanding is that casinos are to deposit 1 percent of profit to a fund so the HPO can issue rehabilitation grants for historic districts.
Must we therefore assume that the Divi Carina Bay Casino is not profitable? If one casino is not profitable, why do we continue to discuss licensing more of them? With the dilapidated state of our economy, jobs cannot be the only consideration with new business ventures.
Our government needs hard, cold cash, as opposed to funding through borrowing. Government assets and services are deteriorating due to a lack of money and outstanding debt. Do we need more entities that do not increase the government coffers? In fact, our EDC benefits need to be amended to have EDC entities pay a moderate amount of tax and donate to approved nonprofit agencies.
We should not have to in effect bribe taxpayers to start mid-sized and large businesses here by waiving all their taxes. If we want to live here, so do others. They should have business here because they want to - not because they are bribed. It is incumbent on any business to have a business plan that outlines how it will create the income to pay its expenses, including taxes.
Every day, the frustration of changing certain aspects of our government and society are vented on radio talk shows. I have been listening to these complaints for 25 years: government structure, health, education, violence, tourism and employment - not necessarily in that order. Health services, especially at Luis Hospital, have fluctuated up and down, and almost everything else gets steadily worse on St. Croix. Nothing will improve without community unity and our acknowledgment that no one of us is better than the other.
I want to take a moment to urge everyone - individuals and groups - to promote the following:
1. Community unity - An "all for one" paradigm implementation for the improvement of the community (all races, classes, sexes and ages).
2. Excellent education - in traditional matters (basic education), to encourage new thoughts (with extracurricular activity) and non-traditional thoughts (with university research), especially those that encourage community development and improvement. There are many organizations on these islands that work with young people, sports programs or community change without receiving the proper support from the government or the community.
3. Governmental structure and policy reform - Political parties need platforms for community improvement and development or we will not progress. Senators cannot make haphazard changes to accomplish community development. There must be a general plan that the majority of the community endorses, so we can all work together for comprehensive change in an entirety and for cohesiveness in the future. Perhaps we need representatives, mayors, council members or aldermen to facilitate improvements by island, district or town. Our political status also needs to be resolved.
4. Less dependency - Especially on the U.S. government for "free" money. Nothing is free. Our islands need exports.
That should develop after we resolve items 1 to 3. I suggest we find companies that need inventory or create our own companies. For example, compost production, paper bags, boxes and other paper products from recycled compost from our never-ending brush cutting along with industrial hemp, fuel from hemp, aloe gel for shampoo products, clothing and furniture, a bottling factory for local fruits and more. All could reduce costs for our islands. We have a high percentage of stale money circulating in our economy. There is little new money from non-Virgin Islands sources. We circulate the same money, except tourist dollars, in a closed loop within the islands or, unfortunately, it is sent outside the islands, making our situation worse.
5. Increased agricultural production - This could decrease food costs.
6. Enhanced public and social services - Top-notch medical services for all, better roads, housing, meals and services for the mentally and physically disabled, less food stamps and AFDC benefits because of increased job opportunities and well-maintained parks and recreation areas.
Providing the structure to reform these items for the community will lead to more job opportunities and a stronger economy because we will have created a stronger foundation.
There will be progress if all three islands in the territory address these issues. Ultimately, the entire Virgin Islands community must decide the specific order. If these items are not addressed in a comprehensive manner, we will have extremely slow economic growth in the Virgin Islands. That is good for a very few and regressive for many.
I believe a good start would be for all non-profit organizations, on each island, to organize under one umbrella. All the businesses and business groups, on each island, organize under another umbrella. Each group would develop an overview of how they would like to see their particular island develop.
These two groups would then unite one community plan for their island. It would then be presented to each island's populace for input, revised from the community input from each island, then combined for all three islands and voted on by all Virgin Islanders so we would have a comprehensive plan for the Virgin Islands.
It could then be presented to political parties and/or government leaders for implementation on each island.
A community consensus will have to be developed. Concessions will have to be made by everyone to get the best for all.
Until something along this model is implemented, the Virgin Islands will continue to be a fractured community with a small percentage benefiting a great deal more than the larger community benefits.
I hope most of us do not want that result and are hoping for and willing to work and struggle for a change. It has been accomplished elsewhere.
Each day we arise, every Virgin Islander should be thankful we reside on one of the "paradises" in the world in a place where we must deal with three feet of snow or food shortages or extreme political turmoil.
- LeVelle T. Henry, St. Croix