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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  December 17, 2001 - Issue # 10
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  Long live the Holidays
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   The season's first yachts have already settled into their harbor slips, and by next week, hotels will be fully occupied. The newspaper ads for oysters and foie gras are running, and the Christmas decorations adorn the streets of Gustavia. If the island was ever looking forward to a Christmas, it is this one.
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  Before turning its attention to the holiday festivities, the municipal leadership met for the last municipal council session of the year to set the course of action for 2002. On December 11, mayor Bruno Magras gave priority agenda status to outlining the objectives to the municipal council for the year 2002. The completion of this year's most ambitious municipal projects -the new incinerator plant and the new town hall building, which will open its doors for business on December 26-will bring a temporary lull to what some island residents have begun to fear was turning into construction mania. Things will quiet down, at least for now, but resistance or not, change is coming, especially as concerns the port. Two new projects that are slated to get underway in 2002 are the renovation of the Quai de Gaulle and the harbor master headquarters. Another much-awaited change is the improvement of the sports area around St. Jean. An indoor gymnasium, tennis courts, a judo club and a playground have all been foreseen as amenities and features of the proposed sports complex that would be couched on one side by the stadium and on the other by the municipal swimming pool. The airport, which was entirely renovated this year, still lacks runway lighting and a surrounding gate, now required by French law for security purposes (Hurricane Luis blew away the existing one in 1995).
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  Of course, financing all these projects will take money and lots of it, which hardly comes as a surprise. But there is news, and it is that the municipality will be expecting residents and hotels to pitch in and contribute to the municipal budget more than they have in the past. The 50 centimes per-liter fuel tax that went into effect on August 1 may be increased to 75 centimes, a way of dealing with the Electricity Company's refusal to pay the tax any longer. The fuel tax was voted into law on December 7, 2000, and revenues from that tax were designated for the improvement, repair and maintenance of the island's roads. Spokesmen for the electricity company have stated that EDF is exempt from the tax and declared that it will not only discontinue paying the fuel tax in St. Barth, but will seek reimbursement for payments made since August. More than half of the fuel tax revenue that the local government was counting on would have come from EDF. More precisely, of the 10 million francs of projected yearly revenue from the fuel tax, EDF alone would have accounted for 6 million of the total. As a result, there is hole, and a rather sizable one, which has local government scurrying to look for ways to come up with the difference. One of the first solutions has been to consider raising the fuel tax, a measure that would hit everybody-residents and visitors alike- at the gas pumps. The hotel industry may be next in line as the municipal council eyes the possibility of imposing a vacation tax (or room tax) on all St. Barth stays in order to bridge the community's potential revenue gap. Anything that can in any way compromise the delicate balance that already exists between destination and traveler will undoubtedly make hotel professionals squirmish. For them, the vacation tax, which will be translated to clients as higher rates, threatens to further disrupt a most precarious situation. Since the September 11 attacks, Americans have been traveling less. Island tourism statistics have clearly underscored the island economy's dependency on tourism, and more specifically on American tourism from New York. After a disappointing summer season, the island economy was counting on an injection of tourism dollars that never materialized.
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  During Thanksgiving, occupancy rates were down by 40%. Retail business slumped, and in November, there was a 70% drop in cruise-ship generated traffic.
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  St. Barth is waiting impatiently for its holiday visitors, hoping to forget the difficulties and traumatic international events of the past several months, to recuperate some of its former insouciance and to bolster an economy that has sorely missed its habitues.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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