Like a broken record endlessly repeating the same passage, the question of how the V.I. Water and Power Authority can make ends meet when the government owes it millions of dollars once again dominated discussion at Friday’s meeting of WAPA’s governing board.
WAPA Chief Financial Officer Joseph Boschulte said central government departments owe the utility $10.6 million for water and electric services. Hodge said three departments owe more than $9 million of that total: The V.I. Department of Finance owes $7.2 million for streetlights, and the departments of Education and Health owe $1.7 million and $1.2 million respectively. But most government agencies are current in their bills, Hodge said.
Of the autonomous agencies, Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital owes more than $3.4 million. “Juan Luis Hospital is a big problem,” said Boschulte. “I don’t see an urgency to pay."
The Luis hospital delinquency is a chronic problem, Hodge said, with overdue bills promptly accumulating again shortly after the V.I. Government paid off the hospital’s entire past due amount. Hodge and WAPA’s finance team have scheduled a meeting with Gov. John deJongh Jr. to discuss the outstanding bills, Hodge said.
While by law four percent of real property taxes go to pay for streetlights, even without the legal challenges preventing their collection for several years, the amount is unlikely to be enough to cover the cost, Hodge said. The most recent payment of more than $4 million was received last August. “We need another system to adequately deal with the government’s obligation to supply streetlights to the territory,” Hodge said.
Board members discussed previous efforts to collect from the St. Croix hospital including payment agreements and 90-day notices of disconnection, all of which have essentially failed in getting timely payment.
Asked by board members if he could disconnect non-critical areas of hospital operations such as warehouses or administrative offices, Hodge said, “I can go as far as you give me the authority to go.” He said he would have to look at the hospital’s accounts in detail to figure out how best to go about it, without risking cutting power to the emergency room, for example.
In other matters, the board:
- approved the purchase of a continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS) to meet federal and local air permit requirements for two St. Thomas gas turbine units at a total cost of approximately $386,532;
- approved a time extension to complete rehabilitation of the largest water tank at WAPA’s Estate Richmond plant. Once work began, closer examination of the floor and rafters revealed more work needed to be done than first anticipated. The change includes an extension to July 30, to install a new outlet valve to isolate the tank, a new drain valve, thicker floor plate, and reinforcement of the rafters, at a cost of $101,000;
- extended a contract with Wood Group, HIT, to complete repairs to one of its turbines until June 23;
- authorized Hodge to negotiate with Sherwin Rey for the purchase of the Midas Building property in St. Thomas to relocate the line, engineering and system planning departments from the Harley Power Plant and to house a future dispatch and control center;
- authorized Hodge to pay Apex Construction Company for extra time and expenses for a design change and rock excavation related to work on the undersea cable to St. John;
- extend a contract with MIOX corporation by one week and $11,000 for training and startup on a mixed oxidant chlorine generation system to eliminate the use of the less environmentally friendly calcium hypochlorite. The new total is $392,000. A delay in shipping of chlorine salts forced MIOX personnel to spend an extra week on St. Croix.
After going into executive session, the board reported out that it will support a change to existing legislation to facilitate a greater role for WAPA in the broadband expansion project in partnership with the V.I. Public Finance Authority.
Attending the meeting were chairwoman Juanita Young, Noel Loftus, Gerald Groner, Donald Francois, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, Department of Licensing Commissioner Wayne Biggs and Acting Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes. Absent were Brenda Benjamin and Kenneth Hermon Jr.