July 30, 2005 – The V.I. Water and Power Authority has given government agencies and departments some options on paying their bills, while also letting a deadline pass without giving the "lights out" order.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, WAPA Chief Executive Officer Alberto Bruno-Vega asked senators just to bail out the central government and pay the $5.6 million it owes WAPA in power and water bills.
He said in an interview that this is just part of the government debt. He said when the bills for autonomous agencies, such as hospitals, are included, the amount jumps to $13.2 million.
Bruno-Vega said, "Maybe they can't pay everything, but we would like them to pay at least the $5.6 million."
He said the government had paid off its bills in a similar manner in 2002 when its WAPA debts had reached almost $14 million.
While pursuing this process at the Senate, the WAPA governing board was also scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss its other plan for getting payment from government agencies — threatening to cut their service.
However, emergencies came up for board members, and the meeting was cancelled. Bruno-Vega, however, said progress and correspondence concerning the agencies and departments was being monitored on Thursday.
On Friday WAPA sent out a press release that said the agency has worked out a plan with the government to reconcile past due balances and avoid termination of electric and potable water service accounts.
The release provided a synopsis of those efforts.
On April 15, WAPA issued letters to all government agencies with delinquent accounts, urging them to make immediate arrangements for payment. The V.I. National Guard, the Department of Property and Procurement and the Department of Education were the only agencies not responding. On July 5, final notices were issued to those agencies, requesting them to either pay and/or make payment arrangements or face termination on July 29.
As of July 21, the National Guard had lowered its balance by $33,962 from its previous $133,774; while Property and Procurement owed $115,667 and reduced this amount by $29,828.
The Department of Education, which had an outstanding balance of $1,383,784 has paid $565,278. There are additional allotments reportedly being cleared through the Department of Finance.
Bruno-Vega stated, "While those entities have made significant improvements with their accounts to WAPA, keeping these accounts current will remain a priority and a challenge. Our biggest concern remains with the autonomous agencies, such as the Juan F. Luis Hospital with arrears totaling $4,750,703 of which $3,925,322 is electric and $825,451 is water."
WAPA has also worked out a plan to "swap checks" with the government.
Each year WAPA is to make a payment to the government in lieu of paying taxes. This amount is either $500,000 or 10 percent of WAPA's net income, which ever is larger.
Bruno-Vega said WAPA now owes the government $2,386,792.09. He wants to take that amount and credit outstanding central government accounts.
Bruno-Vega also brought funding for the streetlight program before the Senate. He said WAPA did not mind taking over the responsibility of streetlights, but it needed funding to do the job.
When WAPA took over the streetlight program, he said money was appropriated but that WAPA "never received a penny."
And finally, there is another area that WAPA wants to get help from the senators. Bruno-Vega said that several years ago the Senate passed legislation forcing WAPA to make electrical connection to any residence, no matter how far up a private road it is. The law used to read that WAPA was only required to go 150 feet up a private road.
Bruno-Vega said, "A billionaire comes down here, builds on the pinnacle of one our hills, and WAPA has to pay everything to connect him. WAPA goes broke."
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