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Thursday, June 13, 2024


Nov. 23, 2001 – A bill to transfer the job of keeping the territory's street lights in working order from the Department of Public Works to the Water and Power Authority may be "doomed to failure," according to Joseph Thomas, WAPA executive director.
The problem as he sees it is that WAPA in taking on the responsibility may be setting a bad precedent from the standpoint of financing.
Thomas doesn't want the government to foot the bill for the lighting program with an annual appropriation. WAPA has a plan to restore full operation to all 8,000 street lights in the territory within 18 months, he said, and he wants to fund the costs through a monthly surcharge on customers' electric bills. The fee would amount to roughly $1.80 a month for residential customers, he said.
"A few dollars per month will soon be forgotten for first-class lighting Virgin Islanders can count on," Thomas said. "We believe residents are tired of second-class service. They want well-lighted streets and secure play areas for their children." He said "a markedly beautiful, safe and secure V.I. community can last forever," but not with government funding.
The Senate Finance Committee recently approved and sent to the Rules Committee legislation which "appears to ignore key requirements," Thomas said. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, the Finance chair, amended the bill to eliminate the monthly charge, saying residents shouldn't have to pay for street lighting.
Instead, the committee approved the annual appropriation with which Thomas takes issue. "The appropriation process is not a reliable enough source of funds upon which to base a long-term utility business," he said.
Thomas speaks from experience. In his first six months as WAPA's chief executive, he has come down hard on the government for its delinquent accounts which were crippling WAPA's cash flow and standing in financial markets. And he has been mostly, although not entirely, successful.
"The authority is still struggling to receive payment from many government agencies," he said. "FEMA funds from the Office of Management and Budget, some of which should have been handed over to the authority in January 2001, are not forthcoming," he noted, "and telephone calls are not being returned."
The Finance Committee voted unanimously to appropriate nearly $2.7 million WAPA had requested for start-up costs of assuming the street-lighting operations — $2 million from the General Fund and $680,000 from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund.
Besides his concern about the source of ongoing funding, Joseph said the legislation does not provide WAPA liability protection such as the Public Works Department has in place. He said he requested such coverage to protect customers and bondholders from the added level of risk expected to come with the authority getting into the street-lighting business. Existing claims would remain before DPW, he said, but he anticipates that new claims will be "excessive."
Sen. Carlton Dowe, the Rules Committee chair, said he expects the street-lighting bill to be on the agenda for the committee's Dec. 5 meeting on St. Thomas.

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