July 26, 2006–A budget cut of approximately $4.1 million would hamper the Waste Management Authority's ability to hire much-needed staff and recruit the individuals to provide basic services to the territory, according to WMA Executive Director May Adams-Cornwall.
This is the second consecutive year that Adams-Cornwall and other WMA representatives have appeared before the Senate to ask for more money. In 2005 WMA requested $32.2 million, but received only $21.2 million after the request was cut by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the Legislature (See "WMA Director Says Senate Mistake Is Devastating").
This year Adams-Cornwall said WMA had submitted an operating budget of $38.3 million but received a recommendation from the Office of Management and Budget of $32.4 million. "While the cut isn't as bad this year, it has affected our ability to properly staff the authority," she told senators during the first round of budget hearings Wednesday.
She added that the budget cut prevents 42 new and vacant positions from being filled–including a safety manager, heavy equipment operator, landfill supervisor and an environmental enforcement officer for St. Thomas. "Because these are essential positions, we are requesting that the Senate restore the funding we need to get them filled," Adams-Cornwall said.
She explained that a lack of staff has forced the authority to outsource more than 50 percent–or $20 million worth–of its operational services. While senators said they were concerned that these jobs were not being performed in house, Adams-Cornwall said that more funding would allow WMA to train local residents to perform various tasks and could also provide a salary increase for workers who have received the proper training. "When you do a dirty job, you want to get paid," she said.
Despite Adams-Cornwall's statements, senators said they were still concerned that WMA had not expended all the money allotted for fiscal year 2006–including five appropriations made by the Legislature over the past few months. According to Sen. Usie R. Richards, the authority has yet to spend $67 million–a combination of General Fund money and federal funds.
Figures detailed in a report distributed during the meeting by the Legislature's Post Audit division indicate that the authority has not spent $2.7 million in Environmental Protection Agency funds and approximately $7.3 million in funds awarded by the U.S. Department of the Interior. "Additionally, you have $901,767 worth of unclassified vacancies," Richards said. "And I have a big problem giving money to departments and agencies who are not using what they've been given by the local and federal governments."
An unaudited expenditure report submitted by WMA also indicates that the authority has spent–as of June 30– $15.56 million worth of General Fund money appropriated by the Legislature in FY 2006.
After the meeting, Adams-Cornwall said some of the federal grant money–which remains available until expended–has been obligated. "However, all of that money is earmarked for specific purposes, mainly capital projects," she said. "We can't just use it for our regular operations."
She also said that the authority is planning to spend the Legislature-appropriated funds by the end of the fiscal year. "We also hope to fill our vacancies as soon as possible," she said, explaining that sometimes positions remain open because the WMA is unable to find workers with the necessary skills.
"Therefore, it is critical that the Legislature give us what we requested, so that we can find qualified, skilled workers to fill our positions," she added.
During the meeting, Adams-Cornwall said that WMA's overall operating budget also included $6.4 million in special funds, which come from the Anti-litter and Beautification Fund, the Sewer Fund, and the St. John Capital Improvement Fund. This money, along with the proposed General Fund budget request, would pay for $12.3 million in personnel and fringe benefit costs, $230,000 for capital outlays, $20.8 million in professional services contracts, and $2.8 million for utilities.
The budget recommended by the executive branch appropriates $5.9 million in special funds–along with the proposed $28.3 million General Fund budget–including $9.15 million for personnel and fringe benefits costs; $25,000 for capital outlays; approximately $20 million for professional services contracts; and $2.2 million for utilities.
Adams-Cornwall said that the authority would be instituting various cost-saving initiatives to cover shortfall. This includes the implementation of an environmental user fee–a tax placed on goods coming into the territory–which would initially yield approximately $10 to $12 million over a 12-month period. However, she said the fee would not come online until the rates are approved by the Public Services Commission.
Adams-Cornwall wrapped up her presentation Wednesday by refuting claims previously made by some government officials about the inefficiency of the authority and the ability of Public Works to "do a better job" with solid waste management.
"I worked for Public Works for 10 years, and they did not accomplish anything near what we've accomplished in the past two years," she said.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste and Richards.
Sen. Roosevelt C. David was absent.
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