Adrian Taylor, until recently the acting executive director of the Waste Management Authority, was not present at the Authority’s budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, but he was a big topic of discussion.
Committee Chairman Kurt Vialet said he was not happy to learn that Taylor is continuing as a part-time employee of Waste Management, earning $85 an hour for up to 20 hours a week. Vialet told Ann Hanley, interim executive director of the Authority, that if Waste Management continues its relationship with Taylor it will run into problems.
One item of concern for senators was the purchase of two used cars. The purchases were initiated by Taylor and payment was made last year. Waste Management has yet to receive the cars.
Sen. Marvin Blyden said Taylor told him the vehicles were being purchased from a relative of his. Hanley said she is not aware of such a relationship. She said delivery of the vehicles was delayed because models had been switched.
Vialet also questioned why Taylor was paid $12,000 on separation from his previous role. He was told that it was Taylor’s vacation pay. Vialet said Taylor was missing for three months before his formal separation. “We paid for nothing,” Vialet said.
Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. was also critical of Waste Management for keeping Taylor on the payroll. He called it a travesty. “We continue to pay Taylor while he does nothing,” Francis said.
Senators also voiced concern about the budget Hanley presented, which showed the Authority spending $45 million over the next fiscal year, an increase of 42 percent.
The largest increase comes in the capital outlay and equipment category, for which Waste Management is requesting $8.7 million. Hanley said the category was not included in a previous budget but added, “We really need it.”
Another large increase is proposed in personnel costs – from $9.6 million to $11.1 million, a 15 percent increase. The fringe benefits percent increase is even larger at 22 percent; $4 million to $4.8 million.
Hanley said in her testimony, “On a routine basis capital expenditure is funded by federal grants and the remaining budget items are funded by the General Fund. However, for fiscal year 2021, the VIWMA is requesting CapEx funds in the amount of $8.8 million to acquire, operate and maintain a waste transformation system, waste reduction system, necessary for the continued operation of the Anguilla Landfill. Federal funds received address some wastewater infrastructure projects, solely. Personnel services and fringe benefits are funded by the General, Tourism Revolving, Supplemental Environmental Project and Anti-litter and Beautification funds.”
The requested budget for both wastewater and solid waste operations is $28.1 million. Wastewater operations are funded by the Sewer and General funds. Solid waste operations are funded by the General, Anti-litter and Beautification and the St. John Capital Improvement funds. “Some key operational components for the Authority are unfunded or underfunded,” Hanley testified.
Sen. Oakland Benta brought up the recent rash of fires at the territory’s landfills and said, “We can’t continue to go the direction we have been.”
Hanley said the lack of political will to implement user fees is one factor in the Authority’s deteriorating financial picture.
“The existing system of free and open dumpsites and relatively few customer-facing fees for waste collection, along with the varying tax base that serves to fund this arm of government has led to the Authority operating under strained financial conditions,” she said. “While movement away from a solely tax-funded, free to the public model has been difficult, VIWMA has steadily and persistently pushed for the implementation of inventive and creative approaches to create new income streams and provide continued service to the residents of the Virgin Islands.”
Senators participating at Wednesday’s budget hearing were Sens. Vialet, Benta, Blyden, Alicia Barnes, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Myron Jackson, Janelle Sarauw, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas and Francis.