Waste fees proposed by the V.I. Waste Management Authority will cost local households approximately $56 per year, according to officials, but residents testifying during a public hearing Wednesday said that’s still too much for struggling families within the territory.
WMA filed its petition to implement a new fee schedule with the Public Services Commission last August and since then, has held its own public hearings to give residents on all three islands a chance to voice their comments and concerns. The PSC started its public process Wednesday, with hearing examiner Dolace McLean taking testimony from both Waste Management and public opponents.
According to WMA financial consultant Justin Moorhead, the special waste fees would apply to certain items coming into the territory that are difficult to dispose of, including e-waste, fluorescent bulbs, lubricating oil, tires and vehicles. Many of these goods emit hazardous chemicals – such as freon from air conditioning units or abandoned cars – and pose an environmental and health threat to community members, he said.
At the same time, disposing these goods properly means shipping them off-island, and the authority is operating on a tight budget, Moorhead said. For the past three fiscal years, WMA has seen its allocations cut from $31.7 million to $27.7 million, or 12.5 percent, and the proposed fees would cover “only” $2.3 million of the $4.7 million the authority spends on disposing of the special waste. The remaining 52 percent, Moorhead said, would still continue to be covered through the annual government appropriation.
Throughout WMA’s hearings last year, residents have spoken out against the fee schedule, which the authority suggests could be reviewed and changed by the PSC every three years. In particular, tire retailers in the territory have said the fees do not necessarily cover the cost of disposal for items such as tires, which also have to be shipped off-island. If disposal is not included, then businesses have no choice but to double charge the regular consumer coming in to change their tires – making them cover not only the VIWMA’s special waste fee but also the dealer’s charge for disposal.
If that happens, customers might eventually take their business elsewhere – opting, for example, to order online – and then dispose of the tires in whatever way they can, retailers have said. Since last year’s hearing, Rodriguez Auto Parts owner Enrique Rodriguez filed a challenge to the WMA’s proposal, summing up the businesses’ position and opposing in particular what he described as a “repetitive” tire disposal fee that even PSC attorney Tanisha Bailey-Roka said Thursday night has been a concern for the commission’s members.
Representing Rodriguez, attorney Maria Tankenson-Hodge said during Wednesday’s hearing that WMA came forward two days ago with a proposal to put tire disposal fee on vehicle registrations, which residents would pay when they go to register their car. While Tankenson-Hodge said Rodriguez would be “agreeable” to the proposal, since it would take the burden off the business owners, Bailey-Roka said the PSC’s concern would still lie with the customer, who would have to pay more each year when heading to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Closing some of the gaps to keep old tires from popping up on the roadways or hillsides is important, but new loopholes – such as regulating tires bought over the Internet – could surface, Bailey-Roka said.
WMA’s proposal would also include petitioning the Legislature for the implementation of a tire recycling program, which could mandate residents to hand over their old tires to their retailer or dealer, who would then be responsible for getting them off-island for proper disposal.
While the new proposal would take care of some tire concerns, residents testifying during Wednesday’s meeting that adding the other fees would be burdensome, especially for government employees and retirees that haven’t seen in increase in their paychecks for years.
“We just had an increase in the property tax, vehicle registration fees just increased, but our checks have remained the same for the past five to six years,” said one resident, testifying over the phone from St. Croix. “All we are doing is out-taxing ourselves.”
Fewer than five residents showed on St. Croix for the hearing, while approximately six attended on St. Thomas.