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Trash Fees Delayed a Full Year Awaiting New Scale

VIWMA Executive Director Roger Merritt at Wednesday’s Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning Committee hearing. (photo courtesy of the V.I. Legislature).

Trash tipping fees put in place because the V.I. Waste Management Authority is starved for funds to run its operations amid a governmentwide fiscal crunch have yet to be put into action because the scales are not accurate and need to be replaced, VIWMA officials revealed during a Senate oversight hearing Wednesday.

After years of attempts to establish disposal fees on goods coming into the territory or other forms of user fees, in April 2016, the Public Services Commission approved the solid waste tipping fees for those dumping trash in volume at the territory’s landfills and collection centers.

The V.I. Waste Management Authority proposed another set of user fees back in 2007 but the PSC rejected them at the time.

In late September of 2016, the VIWMA announced it was calibrating its scales so that it could accurately weigh the trash in order to calculate the fees beginning in October. But a few days later, on Oct. 1, the authority announced it was delaying the tipping fees, in part because of the need to calibrate the scales.

On Wednesday, VIWMA Executive Director Roger Merritt said the fees will likely not begin until the end of Fiscal Year 2017, at the end of September, because they need a new scale and computer technology. That would be one year after the original implementation date.

Sen. Dwayne DeGraff asked if the scales were off by a known amount and Merritt answered that the amount is not consistent, but is as much as 20 percent, so a new scale is essential.

The tipping fee per ton ranges from $31.28 to $65.26 depending upon the type of material being disposed.

According to VIWMA, it costs about $10.2 million per year for the authority to manage 200,000 tons of solid waste. The tipping fees were expected to generate about $6.9 million, with services to residents expected to cover the balance.

Some object to the fees on the grounds that having to pay may encourage even more people than already do so now to dump trash illegally. Others have objected that paying for services is a hardship for some and is unfair.

Merritt also said most of the sewer fee collected on property tax bills has either not been collected or not forwarded to the VIWMA.

“Unfortunately, property tax bills are not paid or paid in their entirety. Hence the authority has only collected a total of $576,000 out of $3 million anticipated for FY15 and $856,000 out of $3 million anticipated for FY16, for a shortfall of $4.568 million. For FY17, we have not received any funds from the sewer fee to date,” Merritt said.

The VIWMA’s 2017 appropriation is $22.85 million from the General Fund and several million more from the Antilitter and Beautification Fund and other sources for a total of $31.65 million, unchanged from the year before and slightly less than the $31.2 million total funding in FY15.

The authority’s funding has decreased substantially over the past decade. The FY08 VIWMA total budget was $41.2 million, in excess of $10 million more than this year, with $28.5 million from the General Fund. It has requested upwards of $70 million in additional capital funds to help it close the territory’s two landfills.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp included $30 million for VIWMA needs in a bond authorization request last year but the Legislature removed it over concern about the amount of proposed borrowing. In December of 2016 the Legislature approved a $247 million bond authorization that included $6 million for VIWMA. But the territory received credit downgrades in January and was unable to sell the bonds at a Jan. 11 offering.

Present were Sens. Marvin Blyden, Sammuel Sanes, Jean Forde, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Brian Smith and Janette Millin Young. Noncommittee members Degraff and Sen. Novelle Francis also attended. Sen. Neville James was absent.

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