July 29, 2004 – The Public Works Department's proposed $33.2 million budget for fiscal year 2005 is going to take some juggling and will send its officials back to the Legislature to request supplemental funding of about $13.1 million, its commissioner told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
The reason is Public Works' interim financial responsibility for the newly created Waste Management Authority. Until the authority is able to support itself from environmental user fees, it is dependent on the government to fund its operations.
In June, the Public Finance Authority board authorized the issuance and sale of $105 million in matching-fund loan notes to help get the WMA up and running. About $70 million of the proceeds will go to the authority, which will have the ability to float its own bonds in the future.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood told the Finance Committee on Wednesday that once the WMA is self-sufficient, there will be a significant reduction in his department's operating budget from $33.2 million to $11.7 million. For this reason, he said, the department will need to request a supplemental budget appropriation for road repairs, roadside cleanup, road work equipment and Vitran equipment and maintenance.
The department now has 224 employees, but 160 will be transferred to the Waste Management Authority, Callwood said.
"Over the past seven years, DPW has limped along trying to do more with less," he said. However, he added — echoing several other agency heads — that his department requires the funding level proposed by the governor for "critical initiatives."
He said the size of his staff has been reduced by more than 45 percent in the last several years and appears to be "heading for a further 8 percent to 10 percent reduction."
And he said the Road Fund "hasn't received an allotment for the past five years to maintain more than 1,600 miles of road in the territory, and 800 miles of guts and drains." After last November's torrential rains and flooding, he said, DPW had no funds to repair the roads, but the Public Finance Authority came to the rescue. "We received $5 million for road repair and debris removal territorywide," he said.
In spite of the problems, Public Works made major strides in FY 2004, Callwood said, including the creation of the WMA itself and the completion of two wastewater treatment plants. As other accomplishments he cited:
– A five-year plan for closing down the Anguilla landfill.
– The Mon Bijou flood control project.
– The Long Bay road project.
– The Christiansted boardwalk project, Phase 11A.
– Ten new Vitran buses.
Sonia Nelthropp, WMA interim executive director, backed up Callwood's request that the Legislature approve the governor's proposed funding. She said the authority has been given one year to make the transition to full autonomy. "Over the next fiscal year," she said, "the authority must operate in parallel with DPW, which will still be responsible to continue services and address the Environmental Protection Agency and court-ordered deadlines."
She said that court-ordered funding deposited to a special bank account over the last two years has been utilized to fund the court-ordered operation of wastewater treatment plants and repairs to bring the territory into compliance with federal regulations and agreements. Continued funding must come from the sources listed in the budget request, she said, adding that there is no federal funding for solid waste capital projects or maintenance and operations.
Nelthropp said the recently formed WMA board has been active. "We have had five board meetings where we discussed updates on operating procedures, staffing, contracts and the needs of the plants on St. Thomas and on St. Croix, landfill closures and collection systems," she said.
There is a $2 million shortfall in funding needed for wastewater and solid waste management, due to the implemented cap on expenditures to stay within the allocated resources, she said.
Asked by Sen. Luther Renee about the WMA user fees, Nelthropp said that Keithley Joseph, Public Services Commission executive director, "has come to meetings to discuss implementing the user fee with our consultants and with the commission's. The PSC will advise on costs. The WMA is non-profit."
Asked about the Long Bay road project, Callwood said the work has been delayed to include Lovers' Lane. "It's ready to go but, no contractor yet," he said. "It should be ready by the end of the year. It's good to go."
"Not good by planning standards," Sen. Louis Hill said.
Callwood also said he wanted to "clarify a misconception and set the record straight about the maintenance of the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund." He said Public Works doesn't handle or maintain its various fund account balances; this is done by the Finance Department. But Public Works does manage its allotted funds released by the Office of Management and Budget.
In April, there was confusion over who or what agency was responsible for the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission account after the Finance commissioner said the fund was overspent. (See "No Clear-Cut Answers to Anti-Litter Questions".)
Cordell Jacobs, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Anti-Litter and Beautification Committee, defended the proposed FY 2005 budget of $1.8 million for the committee, which he said handles several programs. He said 594,542 pounds of waste was recycled and diverted from the Bovoni landfill in February and March, but the recycling program is again temporarily on hold until more funding becomes available.
ALBC's Clean and Preen summer work program has employed 107 students this year, Jacobs said. The youths, ages 14-19, are highly visible in their bright green T-shirts as they collect trash around St. Thomas. Because of budgetary constraints, the program was cut to five weeks instead of six this summer, he said.
"With only a few days left in the program," he said, "the students have collected 2,495 bags of litter."
Committee members attending the afternoon meeting were Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the chair; and Sens. Roosevelt David, Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Renee and Ronald Russell. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was excused. Also present was Sen. Berry, who is not a member of the committee.
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