March 31, 2005 – "The root of all WAPA's problems, whether they are on St. Croix or St. Thomas, is lack of money," said Roy A. Anduze, Water and Power Authority board member early in a meeting Wednesday.
One reason WAPA has money problems is customers don't pay their bills. The biggest culprit here, in arrears around $15 million, according to Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of WAPA, is the V.I. government.
The board has had an ongoing discussion about what to do concerning the government bills and Wednesday it decided to do what it would do to any regular customer send disconnect notices.
The notices are to be mailed next week and government agencies have 30 days to make arrangement for payments.
Bruno-Vega said, "This is a shake-up action. It will wake up some government officials."
He said he hopes officials will come up with payment plans. If they don't, the board will make decisions on a case-to-case basis on what government entities to shut off.
The board learned earlier in the meeting that WAPA was making some progress in collecting large back bills. According to a report at the meeting, Sea View Nursing facility owes a bill of over $400,000. The St. Thomas facility has been paying $20,000 a month for about a half year. Its monthly bill is about $14,000. It is estimated that the bill will be paid off in between four and five years.
David Lynch, board chairman, said he has been also very encouraged by recent talks with officials at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital. The hospital owes WAPA over $4 million.
Lynch said the relationship between WAPA and the hospital has been "getting much, much better and the results will surprise all of you."
Bruno-Vega said the disconnect notices are the second phase of a plan to get the government agencies to pay their bills. He said, a couple months ago, WAPA instituted a policy of not adding any services to customers who were in arrears, unless a payment plan was agreed upon.
James O'Bryan, government house spokesperson and, reportedly, the government liaison with WAPA, was unavailable for comment on Thursday as he was attending ceremonies marking Transfer Day.
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