Home News Local news PSC TOLD V.I. OWES WAPA $27 MILLION — FOR NOW



Issues addressed by the Public Services Commission at its regular meeting Monday included the government's staggering and growing debt to the Water And Power Authority, a request by the V.I. Telephone Corp. to have the reimbursement requirement for service outages in excess of 72 hours waived in the aftermath of Hurricane Lenny, and a coming customer charge for emergency 911 operations.
According to The V.I. Daily News, Vitelco is supposed to pay a reimbursement rate equal to one and a half times a customer's daily rate for outages in excess of 72 hours.
Vitelco president Samuel Ebbesen said the telephone system performed "magnificently" during Hurricane Lenny, but the company is facing substantial expenses related to exposure of its equipment to the corrosive effects of salt water over time, The Daily News reported.
After the hurricane, a Vitelco release said that some telephone lines functioning immediately after the storm would go down due to the salt water effects on equipment. The company later reported in excess of 3,000 phones out in the territory.
The PSC deferred action on the request and asked Vitelco to submit a detailed report of the company's 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 stands at $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 that the cost of the government debt was being passed onto WAPA customers and was limiting WAPA's ability to make capital improvements.
PSC member Desmond Maynard asked why the power company is continuing to provide service to non-emergency government offices, while not doing the same for private customers. He said the practice was "discriminatory."
The implementation of a surcharge for 911 service is a part of the Omnibus Act of 1999. As such, it is expected to go forward since the PSC has no power to block the charge.
The act calls for the telephone company to collect $1 per month on each phone bill, to be paid to the government within 15 days of collection and deposited into the Emergency Services Special Fund. The money is earmarked for the purchase of equipment and supplies and the maintenance or improvement of emergency equipment, including 911.
Ebbesen said the phone company would have to reconstruct its entire billing and collection system in order to comply. PSC chair Walter Challenger said there was nothing the commission could do about the situation, since it is 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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