PSC OKs hiking waste water usage fees by 120 percent


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ST. THOMAS - The Public Services Commission has okayed the Waste Management Authority's request to more than double an annual $50 fee attached to waste water usage in the territory.

The commission also approved the appointment of a hearing examiner to determine whether fees that could be attached to the import and sale of special waste products are within reason. The fees would be set by the Waste Management Authority, and the examiner would assess them.

The Public Services Commission convened Tuesday evening and discussed both fees from its St. Thomas and St. Croix conference rooms.

Both the fee increase and the appointment of a hearing examiner were approved unanimously by those commissioners present: PSC Chairman Thomas Jackson, Johann Clendenin, Joseph San Martin and Andrew Rutnik.

Waste water fee

Each residence is charged $50 annually for using the waste water system, according to Waste Management Authority spokeswoman Stella Saunders. The fee, after approval by the Public Services Commission on Tuesday night, will spike to $110.77.

The Waste Management Authority is hoping to collect $3 million from the fee each year, according to WMA Director May Adams Cornwall.

The waste water system costs about $20 million to operate in the same period, she said, and the agency needs to collect more from customers to cover the day-to-day expenditures that deplete the authority's budget.

The fee boost applies to all residents who are connected to the system or are within 60 feet of it.

Depending on their waste water usage, businesses also are charged the fee, but at a higher rate. If they use five times the amount of waste water than the average residence, for example, they are charged five times the residential rate.

For years, the Waste Management Authority charged only $20 per residence, though it applied for an increase to $50 in 2007, which the Public Services Commission approved.

"It's supposed to go up incrementally every five years," Saunders said. "It's something that it is needed to protect public health and the environment."

The fee increase will be applied to the 2014 property tax bills, which could be sent out as early as October, according to Saunders, though she noted that the Lt. Governor's Office still had not sent out the 2013 bills, which were expected in June. Finance officials stated earlier this year that the bills have been delayed because it is a revaluation year.

Special waste fees

The Public Services Commission also approved the appointment of a hearing examiner to assess fees proposed by the Waste Management Authority related to special waste import and sale.

The agency has had a number of public hearings to discuss its plan to attach a "disposal fee" or a "special waste fee" that would be applicable to products that cannot be disposed of at the territory's landfills.

The products, which would include everything from refrigerators to tires to vehicles - cannot be disposed of at the landfills because the Department of Planning and Natural Resources has deemed the products hazardous to the environment.

The fees, which would vary depending on the product, would be levied at the point of importation and would be paid by the sellers of goods.

Fees for automobiles would be applied at the Motor Vehicles Bureau during registration, a process that the Waste Management Authority already has discussed with the bureau, Cornwall said.

Many businesses have vehemently opposed the fees, stating that the hike in prices for local businesses will result in less business for them and will be detrimental to the territory's economy in the long term.

The Public Services Commission did not state how long the hearing examiner will have to assess the fees proposed by the Waste Management Authority.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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