Waste Management cuts back on trash removal, tells haulers they don't have the money to honor contract

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ST. THOMAS - The government's financial crisis may soon lead to overflowing dumpsters, but government officials are refusing to talk about the matter.

Last week, V.I. Waste Management Authority officials met with their contracted waste haulers and told them they did not have the money to continue to pay the contracted amount and must make cutbacks, waste-hauler James Bates of Bates Trucking and Trash Removal said Monday.

"They said they ain't receiving no money from the government, so they can't keep up with the five-year contract," Bates said.

"We pick up neighborhoods twice a week. They want us to cut back to once a week," Bates said. "We tell them no. It's the same amount of trash, and they want to pay us less."

Bates said the haulers are about halfway through their five-year contract for trash removal.

The waste-haulers scheduled a press conference about the issue at 10 a.m. today at Chris' Hideout on St. Croix.

Stella Saunders, spokeswoman for the Waste Management Authority, said she would not comment on the matter.

"We are in the negotiation process with the haulers, and at this time we have no comment," she told The Daily News on Monday.

Saunders said the Waste Management Authority is scheduled to go before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday for a budget hearing.

"After the budget hearing, we may be in a better position to discuss it," she said.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens said he has stepped in to try to prevent the waste haulers from taking a job action.

Gittens said he spoke to Waste Management Authority Executive Director May Adams Cornwall and Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Michael Grigo and was told that the Waste Management Authority's special funds have not been allotted their full amounts, which is hamstringing the utility.

Grigo refused to speak with The Daily News when reached Monday, and referred questions to OMB Director Debra Gottlieb who will not return to the territory until Wednesday.

Cornwall did not return calls for comment.

The Waste Management Authority has four special funds managed by the V.I. government, Gittens said.

The Antilitter and Beautification Fund and the Sewer Fund each are supposed to have about $3 million available in them, he said. The St. John Improvement Fund has about $1 million earmarked for the Waste Management Authority, and the Tourism Revolving Fund has about $300,000 for the utility for Carnival clean up, according to Gittens.

Gittens said the Waste Management Authority may have had a percentage of the funds released, but not had the full amounts. He said the Office of Management and Budget is encouraging the Waste Management Authority and other agencies to reconcile encumbered funds that may not be needed and clear out purchase orders to loosen the government's cash flow and allow them to release funds.

"At least we're not at that junction yet where it's a public health crisis," Gittens said. "I just don't want it to come to that."

Gittens said he has talked to the waste-haulers on St. Croix - although the problem is territorywide - and they are considering a job action over what they see as a breach of contract.

"My chief thing here is not to see these haulers take any drastic action," Gittens said. "It is serious, and it's a breach of contract, but I would hate to see them scale back, much less pull the trucks off the road."

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

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