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HomeNewsArchivesWaste Management Self-Sufficiency Still Years Away, Director Tells Senators

Waste Management Self-Sufficiency Still Years Away, Director Tells Senators

July 25, 2007 — Senators want the V.I. Waste Management Authority to be self-sufficient as soon as possible, but representatives from the agency said during the first round of budget hearings Wednesday that it might take them a few more years to reach that goal.
Although the agency was established about three years ago, senators have frequently asked WMA officials when they will be able to subsidize their own operations instead of continuing to take money from the General Fund. The topic has been a bone of contention during past budget hearings, as WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall has explained that the agency's operations have been hindered by some severe funding cuts.
More recently, WMA officials pushed plans to boost their revenue collections, including the implementation of an environmental user fee — a tax placed on imported goods that will eventually make their way into the landfill. During Wednesday's hearing, Cornwall said fee applications are currently before the Public Services Commission for review. If approved, she said, WMA could begin generating revenues as early as the beginning of next year, pulling in a projected $8 million to help cover expenses on the agency's solid-waste side.
From that point, it would take between three to five years for the authority to generate the revenues needed to subsidize its solid-waste operations, Cornwall added. However, fees implemented on the wastewater side would not, at the end of five years, be enough to cover 100 percent of the authority's wastewater expenses, she said.
Still, the additional money would give the authority some extra breathing room, Cornwall added, and help supplement its fiscal year 2008 budget appropriation, which is currently pegged at an overall $41.2 million. Included in the figure is $28.5 million from the General Fund, $7.4 million from various other government funds and $5.3 million in federal funds.
As is, the budget is stretched to capacity, covering about 212 existing, vacant and new employee positions, along with overtime costs, gasoline and professional-services contracts, Cornwall said. About $1.6 million is also budgeted for utilities, while an additional $1.3 million will pay for insurance expenses.
If the fee applications are not approved by the PSC, or the projected revenues fall short of expectations, then WMA would have to put in a supplemental budget request to cover the various operating expenses, including supplies and professional services, Cornwall explained.
Deviating from the topic of the budget, senators focused on WMA's trash collection and recycling efforts, saying the territory continues to be littered with solid waste that poses environmental and health hazards. Citing various problems with curbside collection efforts, Cornwall explained that more staff and additional training is needed in the authority's environmental enforcement division.
"The authority does have a pre-employment process, however, where we weed out certain people who don't pass the tests,” she said. “And in the area of environmental enforcement, we need to have individuals with a clean police record.”
Curbside collection efforts would also pick up if residents used the proper containers, Cornwall added, saying that the authority is currently planning a public-information campaign about what the containers are used for and where they can be purchased.
Pushed by senators to establish recycling programs within the territory, Cornwall also explained that there currently is not a market or demand for reusing goods such as aluminum or plastic. While used oil collected on St. Croix does go to Hovensa for reuse, aluminum cans and other recyclable materials are generally baled and shipped off island, she said.
The authority is continuing to do research on the issue, Cornwall added. However, setting up a full-fledged recycling program — which could reuse materials such as glass or old tires — is a three-pronged process that would take the support of the private sector, the Legislature and the local market.
Responding to additional questions about the disposal of used tires, Cornwall said the Department of Planning and Natural Resources has generated a registry of local tire dealers in an effort to determine how many tires are circulated throughout the territory and how they are being disposed. WMA, however, does not currently have the authority to regulate the businesses, she said.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, James Weber III and Carmen M. Wesselhoft.
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