Figuring out how much money is owed to the territory’s debt-ridden waste haulers has so far proven futile for the V.I. Waste Management Authority. But with lawmakers recently approving $15 million to pay off those debts, the WMA is now under pressure to get those amounts fast — and get them correct.
On Thursday, the WMA Board of Directors unanimously voted in favor of having Executive Director Roger Merritt submit to the board a comprehensive disbursement plan for the $15 million. The plan will list all of the agency’s waste haulers and solid waste service providers who are owed money, as well as the amounts owed to each.
The plan, once completed, will be reviewed and voted on by the board before submission to the V.I. Office of Management and Budget.
The OMB is required to have that information no later than 10 days after the bill is enacted, according to legislation. Once the money is allotted, WMA must inform the Legislature within 30 days of how it spent it.
That legislation — Bill 33-0375 — is still awaiting a signature from Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
For Board Chairman Keith Richards, having the board approve the disbursement plan is an attempt to give board members more oversight of the agency’s expenditures. Ever since hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, many waste haulers have gone months, even years, without their required pay as a result of the agency’s financial woes.
Worse still, the addition of federal recovery dollars, and the lack of proper accounting, has only added confusion to amounts owed and will likely require lengthy settlement negotiations between vendors and the government.
“Part of our shortcoming in the authority has been our inability to resolve the numbers with our vendors and contractors,” Richards said. “I don’t think, to date, we actually have [as good] a handle as we should of how much of the debt is legitimate, or how much is appropriate, or how much we can support and validate once we start paying out millions of dollars.”
With so much of the debt questionable, Richards said the WMA will only pay invoices that can properly be supported by documentation.
Merritt said he is already meeting with vendors and his financial team to get the proper amounts and validate documentation.
To date, the total amount owed to waste haulers is unknown.
OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal said she recently tried to obtain the latest report from the WMA on outstanding vendor payments but did not get a response. As such, she told lawmakers that, as of a June 30 report, solid waste service providers in the territory were owed roughly $30 million.
• The WMA Board awarded a contract to SD&C, Inc. to conduct a sewer repair near the corner of Parcel No. 9 Strand Gate on St. Thomas for no more than $70,602. The bid request was issued to address a block or collapsed sewer found along the sidewalk of Strand Gate. The repairs are expected to take 60 days.
Board members advised agency staff to consult with the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office to ensure the repairs will not disrupt what is known as a historic area.
Merritt said the agency does have the money on-hand to pay for the repairs.
• The board also awarded a contract to SD&C to conduct a cleaning of the Mangrove Lagoon Wastewater Treatment Plant for $225,453.
According to WMA Director of Wastewater Elvis Pemberton, the facility has accumulated a large amount of grease, grit, sludge and debris over the years that prevents it from operating as designed. Indeed, the accumulation of material in the tanks has make the facility unable to collect sludge from haulers.
The project is expected to commence upon approval and anticipated to take no more than 90 days.
• Board members present included Richards, Nelson Petty Jr., Laurence Richards and Daphne Harley.