Home News Local news PSC TOLD GOVERNMENT DEBT TO WAPA $27 MILLION AND GROWING

PSC TOLD GOVERNMENT DEBT TO WAPA $27 MILLION AND GROWING

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Members of the Public Services Commission faced several issues Monday, including a request by the V.I. Telephone Corp. to waive the reimbursement rate for service outages after Hurricane Lenny, the government's debt to the Water and Power Authority and customer charges for emergency 911 service.
According to the Daily News, Vitelco is supposed to pay a reimbursement rate equal to one and a half times a customer's daily rate for outages that continue for more than 72 hours.
Vitelco President Samuel Ebbesen said that though the telephone system performed "magnificently" during Hurricane Lenny, the company is facing substantial expenses related to its equipment being exposed to the corrosive effects of salt water over time, the Daily News reported.
The Daily News and Vitelco are both owned by St. Croix businessman Jeffrey Prosser.
After the storm hit, Vitelco said it expected telephone lines to go down due to salt water on equipment. The telephone company later reported in excess of 3,000 phones were out in the territory.
The PSC did not make a decision on the request but asked Vitelco to submit a detailed report of its expenses related to Hurricane Lenny.
The government's debt to WAPA stirred lengthy discussion at the meeting that started an hour late, according to the V.I. Independent.
The debt has reached $27 million, despite a $17 million payment made recently to the power company. It is growing at a rate of $2 million to $4 million a month, according to WAPA's chief financial officer, Terry Drake, the Independent reported.
Drake confirmed the cost of the government debt was being passed on to WAPA customers and was limiting WAPA's ability to make capital improvements.
PSC Commissioner Desmond Maynard questioned why the power company was continuing to provide service to non-emergency government offices, while not offering other ratepayers the same courtesy. He said the practice was "discriminatory."
The implementation of a surcharge for 911 service, which was part of the Omnibus Act of 1999, is expected to go forward since the PSC said it has no power to block the charge.
The legislation calls for the telephone company to collect $1 per month on each phone bill to be paid back to the government within 15 days of collection and deposited into the Emergency Services Special Fund. The money is earmarked to buy equipment and supplies, or maintain or improve emergency equipment, including 911.
Ebbesen said the phone company would have to reconstruct its entire billing and collection system in order to comply.
PSC Chairman Walter Challenger said there was nothing the commission could do about the situation because it was the law.
Until the arrival – an hour late – of commission member Alecia Wells of St. John, there was no quorum. Committee members Dora Hill and Patrick Williams did not attend the meeting.

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