Tawana Nicholas, interim executive director of the V.I. Waste Management Authority, told the Senate Finance Committee Monday that the agency’s proposed budget does not completely cover its obligations.
“The elephant in the room is our large accounts payable,” Nicholas said.
The elephant is $16 million big, $13 million dollars of which is owed to contractors and vendors who provide such services as landfill operations, bin-site management, house-to-house pick up, and sewer line repairs.
She said she supports the governor’s recommended budget request of $29.6 million but admitted the department probably could use $40 million more to make ends meet.
Last year total appropriation for the Authority was $33.4 million.
The authority expects to receive $5 million from the Anti Litter and Beautification fund; $1.5 million from Sewer Wastewater fund, $1 million from the St. John Capital Improvement fund and $300,00 from the Tourism Revolving fund. The request from the general fund this year is $21.4 million.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said, “It is alarming you are not able to make vendor payments and meet consent decree requirements.”
Nicholas replied, “The authority has been operating under strained financial conditions for several years compounded by unresolved issues that were inherited from previous fiscal years.”
The lack of reimbursement by the Government of the Virgin Islands to the authority for landfill closure costs is a major contributing factors for the WMA’s poor fiscal health, she added.
The authority has been working since 2010 to resolve violations of environmental laws at Bovoni on St. Thomas and at the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix. Those problems became considerably worse after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year.
Nicholas elaborated in her testimony, funds “have not been allocated to WMA by the GVI” for “several court-ordered closure activities at the Anguilla and Bovoni landfills.” She estimated that the cost of compliance with the Landfill Consent Decree will be over $60 million over two years.
Sen. Brian Smith questioned Nicholas about the piling trash at Susanneberg Transfer Station on St. John. She said the site was “overwhelmed” and the two employees there could not handle all that needed to be done. The authority is advertising to hire more workers for the station.
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff asked if any enforcement officers worked at night or during the weekend. He was told no. He said, “That is the problem. Everyone knows this. We have guys saying ‘It’s OK, I can do my dumping on the weekend.’”
The authority does expect to collect from two new revenue sources. In June 2017, the Public Services Commission approved solid waste tipping fees to be assessed at three disposal sites – the St. Croix Transfer Station, the Bovoni landfill, and the Susanneberg Transfer Station. After a brief implementation, the authority suspended the fees in July 2017 to better educate the public. The arrival of Hurricanes Irma and Maria delayed the re-implementation date of October 2017 until next year. The authority estimates revenue of $3 million annually from tipping fees.
A wastewater septage disposal fee was approved by the PSC in March 2017. It, too, is to be implemented next year with an estimated annual revenue of $483,000.
The authority’s has 107 employees. The department is in the process of hiring 16 more. Since the Water and Power Authority has historically been a large portion of WMA’s expenses, Nicholas said her agency is making every effort to use energy efficient equipment and installing solar power systems.
“Despite our deteriorated fiscal position and despite our operational challenges, the management and staff of the VIWMA continue to be committed to preserving paradise,” she concluded.