The Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority wants to charge waste haulers a fee for delivering materials from septic tanks, portable toilets and other private systems to its treatment facilities to help fund its wastewater services.
Steve Aubin, VIWMA’s interim executive director, said Tuesday that the proposed fee, which would set two different rates for two different grades of septage, would bring in an estimated extra $420,664 to the authority annually.
The proposed fee for “normal-strength” septage, the majority of loads that come from residential septic tanks and private treatment systems, is $75.58 per 1000 gallons. A fee of $13.34 per 1000 gallons is proposed for “low-strength” septage, mostly from private sewer lines and pump stations.
The VIWMA made an application to the Public Services Commission in June to have the fees considered. This week the PSC held hearings on all three islands to discuss the subject. A simultaneous teleconferenced hearing was held on St. Thomas and St. Croix on Monday. A second hearing was held on St. John on Monday.
Aubin said the authority needs to introduce the fees because for years its budget has been increasing while its appropriation from the government has either remained steady or decreased.
“We prioritize to keep the system’s basic service running. I’ll stress that for the record,” Aubin said. “But some of the auxiliary processes and things of that nature have had to be put on hold because of the lack of funds.”
He said that cost-cutting across the board has delayed maintenance of some of the authority’s equipment and facilities and prevented it from paying its vendors on time.
“Currently the authority has a large accounts payable to its vendors. For example, our wastewater contractor we owe back pay of several months due to this unfunded mandate issue. That’s part of the reason we’re moving forward on charging these fees,” he said.
Aubin told members of the PSC that the only fee currently charged to customers of its wastewater services is the Wastewater User Fee, which is collected via property tax bills and set aside in a fund for the VIWMA. This fee is only charged to customers connected to the public sewer system operated by the authority.
But the VIWMA also receives 525,000 gallons of privately collected septage each month in the St. Thomas-St. John district and an additional 91,000 gallons on St. Croix each month. The new fees would be charged to haulers upon unloading their tanks at the Harold G. Thompson Jr. treatment plant on St. Croix, the Mangrove Lagoon treatment plant on St. Thomas or the Cruz Bay treatment plant on St. John.
“Between those two fees (the Wastewater User Fee and the new fee for haulers), that should cover the cost of operations of the wastewater system as a whole,” said Aubin.
He said the authority opted for fees on the haulers, their direct customer, rather than individual residences and business because septage deliveries often contain waste from multiple sources and would be hard to properly invoice. If the PSC approves the fees it will be up to the haulers to pass the added cost of septage disposal on to their customers.
Currently Cruz Bay’s treatment plant is not accepting septage while the facilities are being repaired; haulers must travel to St. Thomas to offload.
PSC Assistant Executive Director Sandra Setorie acted as the hearing officer for VIWMA’s application.