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WAPA TO SEEK SURCHARGE TO FUND STREET LIGHTING

May 24, 2002 – The Water and Power Authority board unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday to petition the Public Services Commission for a surcharge to fund the territory's street lighting.
Although the Senate has appropriated funds for the work, which until recently fell under the Public Works Department, WAPA has yet to see one dollar of that appropriation. This was what former executive director Joseph R. Thomas Jr. feared last year would be the case when he proposed adding a surcharge of about $1.80 to residential customers' monthly bills to fund the lighting.
Thomas said WAPA had a plan in place to get 18,000 of the territory's street lights repaired and operating within 18 months. "The street-light business, if properly protected, will raise the quality of life in the V.I. in terms of safety, security and beautification. It is a good long-term solution," he said then. He added that the experience WAPA has had in collecting payments on delinquent government accounts demonstrates that there are no guarantees that an appropriation would come through each year.
Senators wouldn't buy the idea of residents paying the charge. They subsequently overrode a veto by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull of legislation appropriating $2.8 million to WAPA for the lighting.
The WAPA board said in a statement Thursday that the utility has not received any "start up or any other monies from appropriations."
There is another bill in the Senate pipeline that would finance the street lighting through a different mechanism. Sen. Emmett Hansen II, chair of the Government Operations Committee, has proposed the legislation to fund the street lighting program through property taxes, which now go entirely into the General Fund.
His bill, titled The Infrastructure Maintenance Act of 2001, provides for 5 percent of property taxes and a portion of gasoline taxes to be paid into three separate funds — a street light fund, a road fund and a potable water fund — that would be established for each of the four main islands — St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. The taxes collected on a particular island would go into the funds for that same island. At the end of each fiscal quarter, the Finance commissioner would distribute the funds.
On Thursday, the WAPA board asked Glenn Rothgeb, acting executive director, to immediately file the bill surcharge petition with the PSC.
In other action, the board approved a contract with the Professional and Technical Employees union and approved a boiler and turbines generator overhaul and exciter retrofit project for St. Croix's Unit 11. It also authorized an extension of the authority's line of credit with JPMorgan Chase.

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