Senate to deJongh: Implement law to force government to pay WAPA


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ST. THOMAS - Sen. Craig Barshinger is pressuring Gov. John deJongh Jr. to implement a Single Payer Utility Fund for the government.

Barshinger and Sen. Terrence Nelson co-sponsored the bill last fall, which was passed, then vetoed by the governor and later overridden by the V.I. Legislature.

The new law establishes a Single Payer Utility Fund for the sole purpose of paying the electric and water bills of government departments and agencies.

The senators say the fund - administered by the V.I. Finance commissioner - would ensure that the V.I. Water and Power Authority would get paid in a timely manner.

The Single Payer Utility Fund would comprise appropriated monies that previously have been released and deposited in the operating accounts of departments and agencies.

WAPA's executive leadership often has complained of large-scale delinquencies tied to government accounts and the consequent lack of funds for maintenance of grid turbines and other power network infrastructure.

When deJongh vetoed the measure, he said that such a payment vehicle would just create another "bureaucratic layer" and so would be contrary to the intent of streamlining and securing government payments to WAPA.

In a letter to the governor, sent by Barshinger on Thursday, the senator pointed to the recent audit of the utility that found a net loss in its electrical system of $9.9 million in 2013 and that the amount the V.I. government owes to the utility for electricity has increased to a total of $25,458,791.

"The V.I. Government is a deadbeat WAPA customer. By using WAPA as a bank of convenience, we doom ourselves to poor electricity reliability," Barshinger's letter said. "This is not in dispute: When its biggest customer fails to pay on time, WAPA diverts funds that would have been used for maintenance to pay for fuel. Then the equipment breaks down, months or years later, leaving paying customers without service."

He asked the governor for the status of the law's implementation, and the status of the V.I. Finance Department's efforts in creating the fund.

Barshinger also asked the governor to report the following to the V.I. Legislature:

- The uncontested, past-due balances owed to WAPA by the V.I. government, per department and agency.

- The projected debt during the next six months to WAPA by the government, with breakouts for all departments and autonomous and semi-autonomous agencies.

- The governor's plan for bringing the outstanding balances current.

Barshinger also asked for the governor to detail any contested WAPA bills the government has.

"I hope to see that very shortly V.I. government will be current on all debts to WAPA, with the exception of the JFL Hospital," he said.

Barshinger said the Senate Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, of which he is the chairman, will work with the administration to solve the Luis Hospital's problem separately.

Government House did not respond to Daily News requests for comment about the letter.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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