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Monday, April 15, 2024
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WAPA Increases Killing Business

Dear Source:
The increasing cost of oil has affected prices worldwide. The major oil companies have reported unprecedented massive profits in the last two quarters. Do we all know that here in the U.S. Virgin Islands we are currently paying the highest rate for electricity not only in the Caribbean but in the United States?
I'm not an economist but it seems to me that WAPA has been dragging its decrepit feet for at least twenty years, borrowing money left right and center, floating bonds ad nausea and yet miserably failing in both generally updating and maintaining antedeluvian equipment and intelligently researching viable alternative energy sources. And the Government of the Virgin Islands still owes WAPA an alarming $16 MILLION at last count, I believe?
I can tell you what is happening right now, right underneath my nose. WAPA bills have increased 100% in the last five years. While the V.I. Government as the biggest debtor continues to blithely operate with only an occasional slap on the wrist, the average residential customer and small business is shut off in a heartbeat if that monthly bill isn't paid in timely fashion.
Large and small businesses are raising their prices, landlords whose rentals include electricity but whose leases include no contingency for huge rate hikes are scrambling to find a way around this latest 20% increase by diplomatically approaching their tenants in the hopes of reaching an equable solution.
Rents will rise accordingly while income continues to take a dive, particularly for those in the service industry who rely on tips and sales commissions to supplement their base pay. (Raising minimum wage for those in the service industry is, in my opinon, a rather thoughtless panacea at best.) A reduction in the customer base because that customer base's expendable income has been curtailed, bodes the worst for everyone in the service industry. And while the V.I. Government is the largest employer in the territory, isn't the service industry in general the second largest?
The carousel is slowing down and is going to come to a dead stop unless a new and enlightened government entity is elected which will stop all the game-playing and deal with today's harsh reality.
Municipal government, a reduction in the number of senators, abolition of all those perks (yes, use your OWN vehicles for business and get a per-mile allowance!) A Public Services Commission with a full member complement to enable regular meetings with a quorum and some TEETH to do what has to be done and truly fulfill it's chartered role.
A WAPA board with foresight and TEETH which will follow through on shutting off the Government entities which owe so much. I'll eat my hat that if essential government branches were served a REAL threat of shut-down, the money would miraculously appear within days! Of course the money would be found by shifting around other money and the average taxpayer would eventually bear the brunt but it might well be a good start.
I've been a resident of the Virgin Islands for over two decades and have for several years spoken my piece. This is my home and probably will be until the day that I die. I fully understand that change does not come about easily but it's becoming increasingly frustrating to me that positive change, if any, comes around so slowly here because of what seems to be a general acceptance of, "this is the way that it is."
That position has to change because the world is much different now than it was even 20 years ago. The U.S. Virgin Islands are just a miniscule speck of "Paradise" in the grand scheme but the islands have been a "draw" for many over the years by virtue of being a territory under the US flag. Vacationers, snowbirds and transplants. You can read online forums for a variety of comments from visitors, newbies, transplants and bahn-heres.
Some of the 'bahn-heres" have a problem which relate to what I've (probably) ranted about in this letter. So many of them who've benefited from education here go to the mainland to either continue their education or just learn more. Many of them have a dream of returning to the islands in all good faith to either set up business here or be an employee with additional stateside education.
It's too sad and too bad that so many are so turned off when they look into the whole scenario.
I welcome comments from readers of this forum in continuing a discussion which I think is most important. Momentarily dispiritedly yours,
Anna Clarke
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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