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Waste Management Plans to Increase Resources Despite Tight Budget

While their General Fund budget won’t be increasing in fiscal year 2010, V.I. Waste Management Authority officials said Thursday they still hope to build their resources and redouble their efforts in improving solid waste management and local treatment facilities.
The authority’s FY 2009 General Fund budget appropriation was $30.4 million – the same amount recommended for FY 2010. At a recent board meeting, WMA officials said they had been asked by the Office of Management and Budget to cut their proposal after it had already been trimmed by about $3 million — a request that many said could lead to the "curtailing" of certain services.
During Wednesday’s Appropriations and Budget Committee hearing, WMA head May Adams Cornwall said the tight FY 2009 budget left the authority short on funds needed to achieve some of its goals. This includes upgrading and stockpiling the critical parts inventory, and implementing a preventative and predictive maintenance software application that touches on everything from work orders to fleet management.
It’s expected the funding will come in FY 2010, allowing the authority to also hire staff, purchase equipment and provide secure warehousing, among other things.
Along with its General Fund appropriation, WMA is slated to receive $3.8 million from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund, $1.1 million from the Sewer Fund, $1.2 million from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, $300,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund and about $2.1 million federal funds, for a total operating budget of a little more than $39 million.
Approximately $9.5 million out of the authority’s FY 2010 General Fund budget will be put toward personnel costs — funding 203 positions (154 filled positions and 49 vacant ones). While it’s been harder to bring on more employees during the ongoing economic slowdown, Cornwall said the authority plans to fill vacancies in its solid waste and waste water, environmental health and safety, engineering, finance, fleet management, environmental enforcement and environmental programs.
About $704,350 from the General Fund and $631,548 in special funds are earmarked for supplies, including chlorine, gasoline and diesel fuel. Another $2.5 million in General Funds and $100,000 in special funds will be put toward utility costs.
The authority’s capital budget — which will run about $37 million over five years — will be funded through federal grants and bond proceeds. However, it will cost $1.7 million to maintain the projects that come online within the next fiscal year, Cornwall said.
Despite the lack of money and staff, WMA has made strides this year, and is currently one step nearer to closing out a decades-old consent decree with the federal government for the operation of its wastewater treatment systems, she added during the meeting.
"The authority takes great pride in reporting that for the first time in over 25 years, the Virgin Islands has operated all of its waste water treatment plants in compliance with the EPA consent decree and the TPDES permit effluent limits for discharge to waters of the Caribbean," Cornwall told senators. "In conjunction with this, the authority is also happy to report that no (zero) fines or penalties are assessed for the first quarter of 2009."
It’s important that a similar management plan be followed, and the necessary funding provided, on the solid-waste side — otherwise WMA and the government could be subject to another 25-year consent decree, she warned.
A lack of staff has so far held up efforts to implement a waste-water user fee, but Cornwall said later in the meeting she feels self-sufficiency is still in the cards for WMA.
"And once we’re paying for things like solid waste, like we pay for electricity, then maybe we’ll all be a little more particular about how we waste," she said.
Later in the meeting, senators also heard from V.I. Labor Management Committee representatives, who requested a FY 2010 General Fund budget of $171,260. The committee’s biggest expense is its $95,000 personnel services budget, followed by fringe benefit costs at $4,000.
Present during Thursday’s meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis P. Hill, Wayne James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Alvin L. Williams.

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