A wastewater user fee implemented in 2008 for 18 months will go into effect again for one year while the V.I. Waste Management Authority finishes gathering all the information it needs to implement a permanent schedule.
Public Services Commission members approved the extension during a meeting on St. Thomas Tuesday.
In 2007, the PSC conducted a series of public hearings on the VIWMA’s proposed wastewater and environmental user fees. While the environmental fee schedule was denied, the commission granted temporary approval for the wastewater fee, allowing it to be implemented for 18 months, ending at the end of June 2009.
The $110.97 charge would be applied per resident, or equivalent residential unit (ERU) – a basis of calculation that would allow the authority to determine how much demand a particular customer places on the system. In order to renew the fee after the 18 months were up, VIWMA had to submit a specific set of information to the PSC, which it did not.
The PSC required the authority to complete another set of requirements, including an ERU report, which would help set up a fair schedule that differentiates between smaller customers and larger businesses that place more demand on VIWMA’s system.
The report would also identify each property type and come up with a criteria that would determine how the fees would be added up and the number of ERUs, or units, each piece of property represents.
At Tuesday’s PSC meeting, VIWMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said the authority is almost finished with the report, but needs about another year to complete its work before a permanent charge is proposed.
Commission members voted to approve the one-year extension, which would allow the fee to be added to customers’ property tax bills.
Cornwall explained Tuesday that the proposal would increase the fee incrementally for customers over a set period of years, allowing the authority to eventually collect $20 million to cover its costs. Right now, VIWMA is collecting $3 million from the same $50 fee it has had in place since 1988, she said.
Cornwall added that the authority is also looking to reimplement a sewage disposal fee that existed when VIWMA’s operations were housed under Public Works. The fee would apply to sewer and septic companies and would be passed on to the customer; Cornwall said the charge covers the dumping of sewage into VIWMA’s treatment plants.
Commission members also voted to appoint a hearing examiner to look into the authority’s new environmental user fee schedule, which has been vetted in public hearings held earlier this year.
During those hearings, several concerns were raised in particular by local tire retailers, who said customers would not be able to handle paying two fees – one to the retailer for disposal and another to VIWMA – every time they need to change their tires.
Attorney Maria Tankenson-Hodge, representing Rodriguez Auto Parts, encouraged PSC members Tuesday to move forward in hiring a hearing examiner to look into whether the fees were “legitimate” and “fair” for residents.
PSC members also approved Tuesday a $1.7 million budget for Fiscal Year 2015.