Starting Tuesday, the V.I. Water and Power Authority will resume its disconnection policy for customer accounts more than 20 days overdue.
That means roughly 12,500 past due accounts totaling $20.6 million will be put on notice of the need to collect, starting with the ongoing billing cycle, according to a WAPA statement.
Since March, WAPA late fees and disconnections have been waived to ease the burden on residents coping with the financial blow of COVID-19. However, according to WAPA officials, the utility is now feeling its own crunch.
“Like any business, WAPA depends on ratepayer income to operate the company,” said WAPA Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer. “Our staff has been stretching to meet overhead, energy supply and operational costs for continued generation and the company must act now before we reach a crisis.”
As of today, the average delinquent electrical commercial client owes $3,301 dating back to February usage while the average delinquent electrical residential customer owes $738 for the same period, according to the statement.
“We recognize that more than 81% of our customers have diligently made uninterrupted payments for power and water usage enabling the Authority to continue to provide services to all regardless of payment,” Kupfer said. “We do not want to penalize these clients by raising rates to make up losses from customers who continue to utilize power and water services without making payment.”
While both residential and commercial active accounts benefited earlier this year from the governor’s “Your Energy Stimulus” credits, which credited $250 per active residential electrical account and $500 for each commercial account, Kupfer acknowledged that many customers are facing hardship.
“In order to provide operating capital for the Authority and help our ratepayers avoid disconnection and overwhelming delinquent bills in future months for continued use of power and water, we are offering a three-month payment plan,” he said. ‘Spreading payments over three months will enable our hardest hit customers to gradually come current with their accounts.”
Customers participating in the payment plan will be required to pay their current charges plus one-third of their past due amount using any of the WAPA “Safer at Home” payment options. These include calling WAPA Customer Service on St. Thomas and St. John at 340-774-3552 or St. Croix at 340-773-2250 and selecting option 5, or dropping a check for the current amount plus one-third at a WAPA drop box or in the mail.
Following WAPA’s announcement, Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. released a statement encouraging ratepayers to scrutinize their bills to ensure that they are not being back billed for more than one billing cycle.
Francis sponsored Bill 33-0290, now Act 8297, which reduced the amount of time that WAPA can back bill customers from three months to one month.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated the financial hardships experienced by both the community and the Authority,” Francis said. “This announcement of the reinstatement of the disconnection policy comes at short notice to our community, many of whom simply do not have the resources to make their payments.
“In addition, my office has received several reports of significant billing discrepancies, which we have worked with our constituents to resolve. I am encouraging customers to carefully review their bills to ensure that they are not being overcharged.”