July 15, 2002 – The Water and Power Authority filed a petition with the Public Services Commission on Monday seeking to add a monthly surcharge to residential customers' electric bills in order to fund the territory's street lighting.
Glenn Rothgeb, acting executive director, confirmed that WAPA had filed the petition, which the WAPA board approved in May, in an effort to cover the costs of the essential but as-yet unfunded program.
Street lighting was the responsibility of the Public Works Department, which contracted the actual work out to WAPA, until the 24th Legislature transferred it entirely to the utility. Although the Senate has appropriated funds for the work, WAPA has yet to see one dollar of that appropriation, according to Rothgeb. This was the scenario that former executive director Joseph R. Thomas Jr. had anticipated last year when he proposed adding about $1.80 to residential customers' monthly bills to fund the lighting.
But senators wouldn't buy the idea of raising residents' electric bills. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed legislation appropriating $2.8 million to WAPA for the lighting, then the Legislature overrode the veto.
Rothgeb said Monday that the surcharge proposed to the PSC is $1.50, not $1.80.
"This is because we took the cost we were charging Public Works and divided it by sales," Rothgeb said. "We are now working with hard numbers." He said the money the surcharge is projected to generate is only to maintain the existing lighting system. "As far as expanding, that is down the road," he added.
Rothgeb said WAPA had asked the PSC for an Oct. 1 hearing date for the petition because "there is still some money in this fiscal year's budget for street lighting, but not any money in the 2003 FY budget, to the best of my knowledge." The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The Senate, meanwhile, could still legislate an alternative way of funding street lighting. The Infrastructure Maintenance Act introduced by Sen. Emmett Hansen II calls for reserving a portion of property taxes — separately on St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island — to be used for the public services of street lighting, potable water delivery and road maintenance.
Hansen has said he is confident that the Senate will override the governor's veto last month of the legislation. It passed the Rules Committee unanimously and the full Senate on a 13-1 vote.
A release issued by WAPA last week stated that the authority is establishing a separate business "that will operate with its own insurance and operational budget" to handle the territory's street and area lighting.
The release further said that WAPA is taking requests for repairs and installation of street and area lights territorywide — but "will only provide minimal repairs and maintenance of existing facilities until the project receives funding from a reliable source."
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