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GUEST EDITORIAL BY GARY POKORNY: Has The UVI Free Tuition Act Been Properly Vetted?

Free tuition for Virgin Islands students, how can you argue against Act 8155? Dr. Hall seemed to outline a compelling case for providing free college tuition to any Virgin Islander who can maintain a 2.5 GPA. I say there are a number of questions that need to be answered before I’m convinced this doesn’t end tragically.

1. How much money will need to be drawn from the Government’s General Fund? The answer was not part of Dr. Hall’s case. That is because nobody knows for sure. How many students are expected to sign on as freshman? Until this is known the invoice can’t be written. Given the number of eligible kids, the annual tab could be $28 million. And that is already on top of historical $20+ million normally earmarked from the General Fund.

Governor Bryan was clear in the SOTT Address: The General Fund is bankrupt. There is virtually no cash on hand, accounts payable in the hundreds of millions of dollars, GERS is owed $150 million, there is an on-going structural deficit – which means more is committed to spending for current programs than money coming in. And according to the governor, it potentially gets worse in 2020, once the recovery money is gone. The economy wll have to recover to replace those lost dollars.

What we have here is an ill-timed takeover of another institution by the government. What happens if the General Fund is unable to make a payment to UVI? I mean, they aren’t making payments to GERS or WAPA. Does the university lay off professors when the check doesn’t arrive?

2. Has anyone considered what will happen to classroom size, or even the ability to provide the space and resources to accommodate these new students? How many new students can each campus accommodate? What will happen to the student/teacher ratio? Will new classrooms need to be built? New professors hired? New computer labs? Technology?

The previous UVI strategic plan required an $18 million investment in building, etc. Has this investment been made? What is the new infrastructure budget/projection/plan? Who is going to pay for that? Have they even planned for this influx?

3. Why doesn’t the University provide financial transparency? Across America It is common practice for public – and private universities (Brown University, for example, provides detailed, audited financial statements) to post very specific details of their income statement, cash flow and balance sheet and spending policies. UVI posts but a single page of financials each year – the last one posted in 2017. How much money does the university have on the balance sheet? Why don’t they breakdown details of expenses? What are their spending policies? It is a public university that receives over $25 million in public funds and more in grants and philanthropic support. How much waste and financial mismanagement is there at the university?

4. Are students ready for college? I share concerns among those at the university. Here comes an influx of students who have nothing to lose by “giving college a try.” We already know that the average SAT score is just 481 for freshmen who have been accepted by UVI. This is out of a range between 400-1600. According to the UVI website, they accepted 98 percent of those who have applied. Last year almost 1,000 students graduated from 12th grade. Current university enrollment is around 3,000, with 12 percent or 360 undergraduate, non-resident students being derived outside the territory.

Dr. Hall stated at the senate hearing this past year that 60 percent of UVI students needed remedial help with studies. It is likely that many new students may have graduated 12th grade more than a year or two earlier and will likely need remedial assistance and may be on the fringe of a 2.0 GPA. Will these new students require professors to slow down classroom teaching? How will this affect current/higher achieving students’ education opportunity? Are we setting some of these kids up for failure? In 2017 UVI stated a goal to raise the graduation rate from 36 to 41 percent. Dismal.

5. Is money the barrier to completing a college education? Don’t students who want to go to college have access to grants, and as a last resort, student loans? Can you really argue the problem with a low participation and graduation rate is due to the lack of financial programs to pay for college? I say the money is there for those who want to go. I say the entire education system needs to be retooled first so kids are ready and willing to strive for a higher education.

I hope I’m wrong, but we will know what happens in the next two years. But if the government of the Virgin Islands reneges on paying the invoice, it would be a tragedy to see the UVI go the way of WAPA, GERS and the healthcare system.

To quote from an Op-ed drafted by Gubernatorial Candidate Soraya Diase Coffelt:

“Now is not the time to be adding yet another financial obligation on our burden-plagued government. The focus should be on generating revenues to pay down existing debts and stop the waste, misuse and abuse of public funds. Furthermore, immediate attention needs to be given to improving our healthcare system, roads, GERS, and WAPA for example. Moreover, we need to implement an educational plan with long-term solutions to better prepare our children for the 21st century workforce, whether it be to attend college or to learn a career and technical skill.

The bottom line is that finding ways to spend money is easy – the difficulties are using wisely the money we have now to pay for our critical needs, finding ways that will actually generate revenues to fund our critical needs, and refraining from adding new spending initiatives until the government debt is under control. “

Respectively submitted,

–Gary Pokorny

Gary Pokorny is the former Communication Director for the Committee to Elect Soraya Diase Coffelt Governor

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Guest Editorial By UVI’s David Hall: A Compelling Case for Free Tuition

On January 4, 2019 Governor Kenneth E. Mapp signed into law Act 8155, entitled the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship program. This bill was introduced by Senator Tregenza Roach, who now serves as Lieutenant Governor, and was unanimously supported by the 32nd Legislature.

This Act is part of a national movement that is attempting to transform the nation’s understanding of the role and importance of higher education to the future of this country. Numerous states have enacted laws which provide free tuition for community colleges. Only the state of New York has enacted legislation that provides free tuition for four-year baccalaureate degrees. There are also various private colleges that have developed free tuition programs. However, with the passage and signing of Act 8155, the Virgin Islands becomes the first and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) now becomes the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) that provides comprehensive free tuition to students within its state or jurisdiction.

Most of the state policies are dependent on the college or university’s continuing receipt of federal aid for students and the creation of scholarships by private individuals and companies. Act 8155 is no different, and attempts to fill the gap between what the federal government and the private sector provides on an annual basis. Therefore, this policy is a transformative partnership between the local government, the federal government, the private sector and the University of the Virgin Islands.

Like many transformative policies, there are those who question the value of this approach, and others who would prefer a different label. Even within the University, there are those who support the policy but question whether a label like “free tuition” may come with unintended consequences.  Their concern is that some students may undervalue the education they receive or the University if they believe it is free. They propose that naming this a scholarship program may have a different connotation. They are supported in this view since Act 8155 has an official name that does not use the word “free.” However, the underlying policy that is being promoted by this legislation, and others like it, is more than just a scholarship program. Scholarship programs have existed at UVI and other colleges and universities since their founding. This Act is establishing an education policy and making a bold statement about higher education that must not be lost in the name. That statement is an unequivocal commitment to the important role of education, and especially higher education, in the lives and future of the people of the Virgin Islands, and the commitment to removing financial barriers so that students have free access to higher education.

There are numerous benefits that can emerge from a free tuition policy.

First, it has the potential to increase the number of individuals who are able to successfully obtain higher education degrees. Presently, the Virgin Islands ranks behind all states in regards to the percentage of individuals in the population who have college degrees. Only 11.4 percent of the Virgin Islands adult population have college degrees. This rate is much higher in most states and is as high as 40 percent in some states like Massachusetts. This policy is intended to dramatically improve this percentage, and move the territory to a more appropriate level. College completion is enhanced through financial support provided by various stakeholders, including the institution. 

Second, economic development within any state or territory is inextricably linked to the talents, skills and degrees that individuals within the population possess. Companies that already exist in the Virgin Islands and those whom we hope to attract in the future, are in need of highly trained individuals in order for their businesses to grow and prosper. As the economy expands so will the quality of life for workers, business leaders, and entrepreneurs. When we directly invest in education and college completion we are indirectly investing in economic development.

Third, there are studies that link educational attainment to crime reduction and the decrease of other negative social ills. The more students we can prepare and incentivize to pursue a college education the more likely it is that we can reduce the rate of crime in our communities. This linkage is not only a result of diverting students away from negative opportunities because they are more engaged in the educational process. This linkage also exists because the earning power of those who pursue and obtain college degrees is significantly higher than those who do not. Therefore having the opportunity to earn more through legitimate means makes illegal opportunities less attractive. Removing the major financial barrier to college makes it more inviting to students, and more of them can envision themselves pursuing more rewarding goals.   As Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. indicated in his recent State of the Territory Address, “the prevalence of crime is not the root of our problem. It is the bitter fruit of entrenched social and economic woes that have plagued our community for generations.” Investing in education is planting seeds of hope that can bring forth a sweeter fruit in the future.

Fourth, free tuition policies send a compelling message to students at various levels of the higher educational spectrum that a college degree is essential for them to live prosperous and healthy lives. Public primary and secondary education are an investment that taxpayers and the government make because of the long held belief that they are essential to develop productive and well-rounded individuals. We have reached the point in this technological age where we must hold the same belief about higher education. A college degree is no longer a luxury that the rich and the academically and athletically gifted individuals can obtain. Higher education is a basic necessity and must be provided in the same way we provide other basic necessities.

Just as the United States must move into the modern age and embrace what numerous other countries have already implemented in regards to “health care for all,” it must also embrace “what other countries have already implemented which is “higher education for all who qualify and are willing.” The federal government through its Pell Grant program has already attempted to embrace this principle by providing funding towards tuition for students whose family’s income falls below certain levels. It is now time for states and territories to provide the same relief to those whose Pell Grant does not cover all of their needs, and more importantly, for those families whose income disqualifies them for Pell Grants. Act 8155 allow the Virgin Islands to be a leader and history maker in this quest to make higher education accessible to all. 

What truly makes the Virgin Islands approach to free tuition unique and compelling is that funds are also being set aside to support students in their quest to excel. The Act provides funding so that the University can establish new academic support programs to help more students in high school obtain a 2.5 Grade Point Average (GPA) and new programs at the college level that will help them to maintain a 2.5 GPA. Since financial assistance alone is not enough for some students, this Act creates a comprehensive remedy to what ails higher education. This aspect of the Act strategically empowers the University to make free tuition eventually available to every student in the Virgin Islands, regardless of their present performance. If they are willing to work hard and embrace the insights, support and guidance which will be provided, they can take advantage of this opportunity. The regulations passed by the UVI Board of Trustees permit high school students who have not obtained a 2.5 GPA in high school, to still receive funding if they obtain that GPA while at UVI.

The other unique feature of the Virgin Islands’ approach is that the Act applies to any individual who meets the requirements regardless of when they finished high school. Most free tuition policies are limited to future graduating seniors in the particular state, however under Act 8155, it doesn’t matter when individuals graduated as long as they meet the requirements. There are individuals in the Virgin Islands who have put their educational dream on hold five, ten, fifteen or even twenty or more years ago. This policy enables and inspires them to now pick back up those dreams, brush them off, and pursue the fulfillment of that degree that they never was able to achieve in the past because of financial limitations.

When the history books are written about this territory there will be those who will record that at the dawn of 2019 the Government of the Virgin Islands, and thus the people of the Virgin Islands, glimpsed their future in the mirror of their own reality, and decided to shape it for themselves, so that it would be a brighter future, and a more perfect reflection of their potential and dreams. 

The University is deeply in debt to Lt. Governor Roach, the 32 Legislature, Governor Kenneth Mapp and all of those who advocated for this transformative policy. The Board of Trustees of the University overwhelmingly supported this policy and stand behind the Administration as we attempt in the days and years to come to implement this policy in an effective manner. A copy of the Free Tuition Regulations that were recently passed by the Board of Trustees, which provides specific details and dates in regards to the Act’s implementation, can be found at the following website, www.legvi.org or see this direct link.  Those interested in applying and have questions can contact the UVI Office of Admissions: St. Thomas (340) 693-1160; St. Croix (340) 692-4158 or http://admissions.uvi.edu.  Visit our website at www.uvi.edu. March 1, 2019 is the deadline for applying for these free tuition funds. I encourage all Virgin Islanders to take advantage of this transformative opportunity to make their future brighter and their educational burden lighter.

–By David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands

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Company Doing Veterans Drive Improvement Project Will Give Update Today

Company Doing Veterans Drive Improvement Project Will Give Update Today

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Kenneth Mapp and Lt. Governor Osbert Potter said that they will attend a briefing tour on the progress of the Veterans Drive Improvement Project, by representatives of American Bridge Company.

The briefing tour will take place at 4:00 p.m. today. All participants are asked to meet at the Virgin Islands Legislature building.

American Bridge Company is an off-island civil engineering firm that focuses on design, the management of structures, transportation systems, and infrastructure. American Bridge Company has built some of the world’s most notable bridges including the Tappan Zee, Verrazano Narrows, Mackinac Straits, Bayonne, and structures in San Francisco-Oakland Bay East.

The Veterans Drive Improvement Project is the single largest road construction project in the history of the U.S. Virgin Islands spanning three miles in length and taking just over three years to complete.

The project broke ground in May of this year and will be completed in summer of 2021 according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Company Doing Veterans Drive Improvement Project Will Give Update Today
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OPINION: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Supports Bill No. 32-0327

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — In a herculean effort to help property owners in the Virgin Islands, Senators Myron Jackson and Novelle Francis have responded to the request of American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to sponsor Bill No. 32-0327.

This Bill brings together four (4) Uniform Acts: the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act, the Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interest Act, the Uniform Custodial Trust Act, and the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act. This Bill is of benefit to all property owners and their heirs in The Virgin Islands and is particular interest to the elderly and person of lower and middle income. This Bill helps keep property out of probate thereby ensuring that property stays in the control of the owner and passes on to their intended heirs.

The Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act (URPTODA) enables an owner of real property to pass the property simply and directly to the beneficiary on the owner’s death without probate. People with a high net worth or a complex estate often use trusts and gifting strategies to transfer wealth outside of probate, but those strategies are prohibitively expensive for smaller estates. Many lower-income families can avoid probate for their personal property by using the simpler means established by the enactment of this Bill.

The Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interest Act provides definite, tax-sensitive rules governing refusals to accept transfers of property by gift or inheritance, and identifying who takes in the event of a disclaimer. Disclaimers are used to reallocate interest in estates, trusts and other kinds of property holdings in which benefits may be allocated at death. This Act makes it clear that trustees and other fiduciaries may use disclaimers, that powers of appointment may be disclaimed, and that unfair distribution of interests are avoided when disclaimers are used.

The Uniform Custodial Trust Act (UCTA) allows any person to create a custodial trust by executing a simple statement. The UCTA also establishes a custodial trust into which property satisfying the obligation is placed for the incapacitated person as beneficiary. If the value of the property so placed exceeds $20,000, however, a transfer into such a trust must be approved by a court.

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act addresses a problem faced by many middle to lower-income families who inherit real property and may face dispossession of their land through a forced sale. For many of these families, real estate is their single most valuable asset. Rural African-American/Black families have been hit especially hard.

However, this Act preserves the right of an heir to sell his or her interest in inherited real estate, while ensuring that the other heirs will have the necessary due process to prevent a forced sale: notice, appraisal, and right of first refusal. If the other heirs do not exercise their right to purchase the property from the seller, the court must order a partition-in-kind if feasible, and if not, a commercially reasonable sale for fair market value.

All four of the Uniform Acts contained in Bill No. 32-0327 benefit all property owners and their heirs in The Virgin Islands and is of special benefit to seniors and/or lower to middle income. Please encourage your senators to vote in favor of this Bill and encourage the Honorable Governor Kenneth E. Mapp to enact it.

OPINION: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Supports Bill No. 32-0327
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Teachers, Government Sign Two-Year Contract Guaranteeing Raise In Pay

Teachers, Government Sign Two-Year Contract Guaranteeing Raise In Pay

DONE DEAL: AFT President Rosa Soto-Thomas stands next to Gov. Kenneth Mapp (middle) and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter on Friday.

CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Kenneth Mapp has approved a two-year contract that will give teachers long-awaited step increases following an almost nine-year wait.

The agreement was reached between the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers – AFT Locals 1825 and 1826 – and the Government of the Virgin Islands on October 12, 2018 following weeks of intense negotiations.

Joined by Lt. Governor Osbert Potter and St. Croix Federation of Teachers President Rosa Soto-Thomas, Governor Mapp signed the agreement Friday to the applause of AFT members attending the 2018 TEACH conference held at the St. Croix Educational Complex High School. The annual gathering brings teachers together for a day of workshops and presentations that celebrate and reinforce the profession of education.

“I want to thank you for your service, commitment and dedication to the children of the Virgin Islands,” Mapp said before signing the important agreement. He acknowledged that some conditions under which teachers work are not ideal, saying, “We are working to make that better.”

The two teachers’ unions ratified a contract with the government after years of protests and calls for higher pay and better working conditions for the territory’s teachers.

“It’s been a long and challenging process, but perseverance prevailed and I’m happy for all of the AFT members, to include teachers, support staff and paraprofessionals,” according to a statement from the territory’s Chief Negotiator Natalie Tang-How. “They stayed the course and the government has done its part to preserve the integrity of the process, while ensuring higher wages and a better quality of life for the people.”

Mapp further outlined four areas his administration prioritized as it relates to teachers and government employees when he took office in January 2015: Unpaid portions of AFT members’ 2010 collective bargaining agreement, low entrance wages for new teachers, an 8 percent pay cut that was unlawfully enacted on government employees in 2011, and higher retention wages for senior-level educators.

“We have addressed all four of those issues,” the Governor said, pointing out that in 2016, the Mapp-Potter Administration satisfied the outstanding portions of the teachers’ 2010 collective bargaining agreement; in 2017, Mapp offered legislation to return the eight percent wage reduction to government employees; on July 28, 2018, the administration successfully increased the base pay for new teachers and qualifying government employees by $10,000, raising entrance wages for new teachers to $44,000; and, most recently, a two-year contract that would bring teachers up to the current pay schedule was ratified between the AFT and the Government of the Virgin Islands.

Mapp also highlighted developments in the rebuilding of the territory’s public schools, noting that four schools qualify for demolition and total reconstruction based on federal government guidelines, including Arthur A. Richards Junior High on St. Croix, Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John, and Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas.

Teachers, Government Sign Two-Year Contract Guaranteeing Raise In Pay
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Mapp Gives Non-Union, Exempt Employees 3 Percent Pay Hike Two Weeks b4 Election

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – At least 1,200 non-union classified and exempt employees of the Virgin Islands Government will receive three percent cost-of-living salary increases retroactive to October 1, 2018.

Governor Kenneth Mapp authorized the salary increases via Executive Order on Thursday evening. Executive Order 485-2018 notes that these employees were not included in prior Executive Orders granting raises and that many of these workers had not seen a salary increase in as long as eight years.

“It is about providing a living wage for all workers in the Virgin Islands,” Mapp has said. “This administration remains committed to raising salaries and creating new jobs and economic opportunities in both the public and private sectors.”

The order states that the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Proposal sent to the 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands provided for a 3 percent salary increase for Non-Union Classified employees and Exempt employees of the Executive Branch. No Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners, Directors nor Assistant Directors will receive the 3 percent increase.

The latest Executive Order represents the Mapp-Potter Administration’s ongoing efforts to implement living wages in the territory. Governor Mapp began authorizing raises in 2016 and, as of this month, 5,873 government workers have received salary hikes in addition to the 3 percent cost of living increases announced today.

Earlier this year, Governor Mapp announced a significant increase to the minimum base salary for police officers, teachers, firefighters, social workers and other vital public employees in order to recruit and retain a skilled workforce. He also ordered the minimum wage for all government workers to be raised to $13 per hour.

In March of 2016, the Governor signed into law Act 7856 increasing the minimum wage for private sector employees.

Mapp Gives Non-Union, Exempt Employees 3 Percent Pay Hike Two Weeks b4 Election
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Mapp’s $75 Million No-Bid Consultants Say Hurricanes Cost Territory $11 Billion

WASHINGTON — Witt O’Brien’s LLC Governor Kenneth Mapp’s high-paid consultants, said yesterday that they have release their first-year progress report on the U.S. Virgin Islands’ recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

This report was issued by the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), with the support of Witt O’Brien’s, its “lead recovery consultant.”

The report is available at https://www.wittobriens.com/usvi-recovery-progress-report/.

In September 2017, these two Category 5 hurricanes devastated USVI. The territory lost power and communications, roads were washed out or blocked, and more than half the homes were damaged, leaving residents in the elements.

The economy came to a near standstill. In total, damage to the U.S. Virgin Islands’ housing, infrastructure and economy has been estimated to be $11 billion.

Key achievements during this first year of recovery include the following:

  • Power was restored within 100 days of the storms
  • Airports and cruise ship terminals reopened within 60 days of the storms
  • Public water distribution resumed within one month of the storms
  • Almost 1 million cubic yards of debris were collected within 6 months of the storms
  • Emergency repairs have been made to over 5,000 homes
  • Critical healthcare services were restored through emergency repairs and temporary modular centers
  • Students returned for the 2018-19 school year in repaired school buildings and new modular classrooms
  • First response communication systems were restored, private sector voice and data providers re-established most of the territory’s pre-storm capabilities
  • Tourism has rebounded quickly; reconstruction jobs and new industry are contributing to economic recovery
  • A key part of the recovery program is to enhance USVI’s resilience to future disasters, through hazard mitigation and infrastructure hardening
  • The Federal government has committed over $8 billion in recovery assistance, from Homeland Security (FEMA), Housing and Urban Development and over a dozen other agencies

“As this report demonstrates, we have made outstanding progress over the past year, including the courageous initial response to the disaster by our residents, local first responders, businesses and non-government organizations, and our Federal partners,” said USVI Governor Kenneth Mapp. “But rebuilding will not be easy, and a complete recovery will take years as we work to completely rebuild some of the most critical aspects of our infrastructure. An incredible amount of planning and coordination continues to take place as we prepare our Territory for the vast construction and rehabilitation ahead.”

“Virgin Islanders should be extremely proud of their recovery just one year after being hit with back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes,” added Brad Gair, Witt O’Brien’s lead executive for USVI recovery. “Having led many large-scale disaster recovery efforts, including Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy in New York City, I am extremely confident that the Virgin Islands will seize this transformational opportunity to build true resilience to future storms.”

It has been reported that the Mapp Administration has a no-bid $75 million contract with Witt O’Brien’s LLC of Houston, Texas to ensure the presumption of transparency during the hurricane recovery process in 2017.

To read more about Witt O’Brien’s LLC in the Virgin Islands Free Press:

Mapp's  Million No-Bid Consultants Say Hurricanes Cost Territory  Billion
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Mapp Says Soaring Virgin Islands Bond Prices Show He’s Managing Economy Well

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The prices of U.S. Virgin Islands bonds, a bellwether of the public markets’ confidence in the territorial economy, have roared back, Government House said today.

As of last week, bond sales show a more than 100 percent increase on the value of some Virgin Islands bonds from one year ago. Prices of USVI gross receipts and rum cover over bonds are now trading at premium levels and are highly desirable according to a report in today’s Bond Buyer, a respected financial industry publication. The price of some U.S. Virgin Islands bonds’ on the secondary market has more than doubled.

As an example of the how bond values have gone up, $2 million of Virgin Islands gross receipts tax bonds maturing in 2039 sold for 44 cents on the dollar on December 28, 2017 and on October 11, 2018, the same bonds were purchased at a price of 95 cents on the dollar.

According to the article, Virgin Islands’ rum tax bonds have also shot up. According to Electronic Municipal Marketplace Access web site (EMMA), on Jan. 2, 2017, a customer bought $1.5 million of matching fund bonds maturing in 2024 at 63 cents on the dollar, while this year on October 5, another customer bought $1.05 million of the bonds at 100.625 cents on the dollar.

The most recent bond sales have averaged between 95 percent and 106 percent of its price. Bond sales are brisk, and millions of dollars in USVI bonds are being traded in the public marketplace. See recent sales of USVI bonds here.

The Virgin Islands much improved economic outlook was highlighted by Bond Buyer, where the headline reads, “Virgin Islands bonds rally as economy improves.”

According to a bond market analyst quoted in the article, “It also reflects the recognition that the USVI government has displayed a more creditor-friendly attitude and a much more professional approach to managing its debt problem than its Puerto Rican counterpart.”

Investors are more confident now than ever in the USVI’s economic growth and the ability to stabilize its finances as the territory continues to pay its debts to bondholders, on time and in full.

“We are very gratified to see such strong investor support as we have worked hard to maximize our resources and expand our economy,” Governor Kenneth Mapp said. “Confidence in the public marketplace reflects what we are witnessing on the ground in the territory – growing economic activity, increased revenues, new and higher paying jobs, and a large increase in Gross Receipts Tax collections, which reflects private sector growth.”

Mapp attributed investors renewed confidence in the territory to his “skillful management of a complex recovery effort and the $1.4 billion deal to restart refinery operations at the Limetree Bay/Arclight facility on St. Croix, which has already resulted in $38 million in increased revenues to the USVI budget.”

At least 1,200 new construction jobs and 750 permanent jobs are anticipated and projections call for over $600 million in revenues over the next ten years to fund Virgin Islands government operations, he said. Mapp has sought to direct 50 percent of the refinery revenues into the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS).

Finance Commissioner Valdamier Collens said the territory’s overall economic outlook had dramatically improved despite the two devastating hurricanes in September 2017.

“In the midst of refining our five-year plan, the rating agencies as well as some investors had unfairly compared Virgin Islands’ finances to that of neighboring Puerto Rico,” Collens said. “These same bondholders are now witness to a USVI recovery that has been well-managed, with increased economic activity and revenue generating projects. Tourism is steadily increasing, with more cruise ship arrivals, hotel reconstruction and a recent announcement that DiamondRock will rebuild and upgrade over 400 of its hotel rooms. Last week, Airbnb named St. Thomas its top destination in the Caribbean – the result of a successful agreement made in 2017 between the Virgin Islands government and the travel company.”

Rum production remains strong in the territory. The Cruzan and Captain Morgan rum facilities are in full production mode, and fortuitously prepared a strong inventory of product so production was not significantly impacted by the hurricanes.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced it will be handing over $251 million dollars to the U.S. Virgin Islands in rum tax cover-over payments for estimated FY 2019 rum tax collections, significantly more than the $223.9 million for 2018.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Kurt Vialet of St. Croix was quoted earlier this month – highlighting positive developments in fiscal management and economic growth.

“The economic and financial situation of the U.S. Virgin Islands has drastically improved over the last 18 months, enabling the government to pass a fiscal year 2019 budget that covers expenses and begin paying off old debt,” Senator Vialet said.

To read more:

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Paradise Jam Returns To St. Thomas After Moving Stateside Following 2017 Hurricanes

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The popular basketball festival, Paradise Jam, returns to the Virgin Islands next month.

Governor Kenneth Mapp met with Executive Director of the Basketball Travelers, Nels Hawkinson on Thursday to discuss the tournament schedule for the 19th annual event which takes place November 16-24 at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.

Featuring 24 games that will all be streamed on FloHoops.com, the basketball spectacle tips off on Friday, November 16 at 2 pm, with action in the men’s competition as Oregon State Beavers face Old Dominion Monarchs.

The women’s segment takes place from Thursday November 22 until Saturday November 24 with four games daily.

Governor Mapp said the return of Paradise Jam was a huge boost for sports tourism as the Territory recovers from Hurricanes Irma and Maria which prevented the tournament being staged last year.

The 2018 Paradise Jam features eight alumni teams, including four past Paradise Jam champions.

Four men’s teams – Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion – have previously played at the event.

Four women’s teams – Kentucky, Purdue, South Florida and UConn – have previously competed in the Virgin Islands tournament.

In 2017, the substitute host for the men’s tournament was announced on September 29 as Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia with the Vines Center as the venue.

Two substitute sites for the women’s event, which is organized as two separate four-team tournaments were announced on October 4, 2017.

The Reef division was held at the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and the Island division was held in Melbourne, Florida at the neutral Titan Field House at Eastern Florida State College.

The men’s tournament was held November 17–20, 2017 and the women’s tournament was held November 23–25.

For more information about the 2018 U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam and a printable bracket, please visit: www.paradisejam.com

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Mapp: Florida Caribbean Cruise Group Says Passengers Want to Absorb Local Culture

CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Kenneth Mapp said that he and “his administration have received high praise for their handling of the post-hurricane crisis in the territory and their success in the continued rebuilding of the tourism sector.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) President Michele Paige applauded the Virgin Islands’ determination “to get tourism back” and pledged FCCA’s ongoing support for the destination.

“Congratulations to the entire U.S. Virgin Islands. Your resilience and hard work paid off. Even though you suffered and you had 18-hour days working to rebuild for tourism, your efforts have paid off. We stand with you,” she declared, speaking to members of the media at Government House on St. Croix.

Lauding the tireless actions of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter and Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, Paige commended Government officials for their timely communication with the FCCA and other partners as part of a comprehensive strategy to get the Virgin Islands back up and running as quickly as possible.

“You did act in unison with the other destinations that were devastated but you were leaders,” said the FCCA President.

“You were the epitome of what a destination should do to rebuild. So, it’s very important for me to congratulate your leaders. You could not have done things better … I can only be proud to be part of this family.”

As testament to the robust manner in which the Virgin Islands has rebounded, Paige disclosed that, in spite of the devastation, the territory’s economic impact per passenger spending has increased by almost 10 percent.

“You went to $165.50 from $150 (in daily passenger spend). That’s a tremendous increase. So, for every passenger ship that comes to the destination, you’re reaching almost $650,000 per vessel in just passenger cruise spending.”

Paige and Chairman of the FCCA Operations Committee, Carlos Torres de Navarra, who serves as the Vice President, Commercial Port Operations at Carnival Cruise Line, painted a positive outlook for the future, given steps which the Government is taking. Calling the introduction of water transportation in Charlotte Amalie “a game changer,” Torres de Navarra predicted this will trigger greater improvement in the tourism offerings and experience.

“You have a great product which is the water and being able to showcase that harbor … and everything that’s to be seen from the water, it’s just amazing what it’s going to do for what people view of St. Thomas,” Torres de Navarra said.  “More importantly, it’s going to help the economic impact.”

Noting the “infrastructural improvements that the governor is showcasing is something we have asked for for two decades,” Paige stressed that “if you can’t move people, they are going to get back on the ship.” In addition, she urged government to capitalize on their most prized asset – Virgin Islanders.

“The people of the Virgin Islands are your secret weapon!” Paige said.

Passengers, she said, want to experience the destination’s lifestyle and culture – “to know what the local customs are, the local dishes are, local art, everything local.”

The Government of the Virgin Islands invited the FCCA’s top brass to visit St. Croix to continue solidifying its relationship with cruise partners. Earlier in the day, the FCCA delegation met with Crucian tour operators and other tourism stakeholders to explore plans to make St. Croix a more appealing destination for both cruise lines and their passengers.

“For St. Croix, the important thing is to introduce yourself for cruise liners … Give us a reason to stop here and be ready because we will be coming,” Torres de Navarra said.

Mapp: Florida Caribbean Cruise Group Says Passengers Want to Absorb Local Culture