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HomeNewsArchivesWAPA TO GOV'T: PAY $25M BILL OR BE SHUT OFF

WAPA TO GOV'T: PAY $25M BILL OR BE SHUT OFF

June 29, 2001 — Pay up or be shut off: That’s essentially what commissioners of government departments will be reading beginning on Friday when the V.I. Water and Power Authority begins sending out letters to collect on the $25 million owed by the central government.
Departments will have 15 days to pay or their water or electricity service – or both – will be shut off, Joseph Thomas, WAPA’s executive director, told the utility’s board members on Thursday.
"We’re at a point now where we have to move to a next step," Thomas said about collecting the government’s five-year old debt. He said the $25 million black mark on the utility’s books shadows everything from WAPA’s bond ratings to audits.
"Virtually every deal we have, this issue comes up. It’s a significant item," Thomas, who has been at the helm of WAPA for just more than a month, said.
Despite the hardships caused by two major hurricanes over the last 12 years, Thomas said that allowing the government to be in arrears was unfair to the household accounts that are shut off after 30 days of nonpayment. WAPA records show that the executive branch's monthly utility bills come to about $1.5 million per month.
Although WAPA board members gave Thomas the green light to begin looking into ways of collecting on the government debt in their last meeting, at least two members weren’t too sure of the hardball tactics. Not surprisingly, the two are Andrew Rutnik and Ira Hobson, the commissioners of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation. Most DHP&R tenants receive either full or partially subsidies on their water bills, causing the department to be the biggest WAPA debtor.
"I know the department owes monies," Hobson said of DHP&R. "I’m concerned at looking ahead and finding my department completely without electricity without recourse."
Rutnik said any effort by WAPA to shut off service "should be selective and it should be surgical." He said shutting off the government’s water and power could cause a "severe problem."
"It would create a great deal of chaos in the community," he said.
Despite the concerns of his colleagues, board member Alphonso Franklin noted that Thomas was given the go-ahead last month to collect the government debt.
"I don’t think we should find ways to back out of this," Franklin said. "We’ve been doing this for the last year."
Thomas said he hoped to have the collection letters sent out by Friday and then meet with Gov. Charles Turnbull within the next two weeks. He said that if no pressure is brought to bear on the government, it is likely no money will be forthcoming.
"We ought to be able to think this thing through," he said. "I can assure you we will spell out our plan before we do anything."
According to WAPA records from last year, over the last five years, the government’s water bill has accounted for the largest part of its unpaid balance. The amount due on water has ranged from a low of $3.4 million in fiscal year 1995 to a high of about $15 million in FY 1999.
WAPA’s electrical system was owed a low of $2.6 million in FY 1995 to a high of $13.8 million in FY 1999.

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