ST. THOMAS–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met Thursday morning in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas. The Committee heard testimony on Bill No.33-0375-An Act appropriating $15 million from the General Fund to the Waste Management Authority (WMA)) to pay outstanding debts to the waste haulers. The Bill is proposed by Senators Vialet and Donna Frett-Gregory.
The proposed legislation stipulates that $15 million will be appropriated from the General Fund to the WMA for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, and for outstanding vendor payments to waste haulers. No later than ten days after the enactment of this Act, the WMA shall submit a list of all waste haulers owed outstanding vendor payments along with the debt amount for each hauler to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
It further stated that no later than 30 days after the funds appropriated have been allotted; the WMA shall provide a report to the Legislature documenting the payments to the waste haulers.
Jenifer O’Neal, Director of OMB, said it is known that the WMA has struggled for years to be solvent and to make payments to its contractors on a timely basis. This has led to strikes and other forms of expression of dissatisfaction from the haulers, which has negatively impacted the general public overall through the non-collection of trash at numerous bin sites.
According to O’Neal, the Government’s revenue collections are currently outpacing expenditures. However, she continues to reiterate that the appearance of a surplus must be viewed cautiously as year-end spending and other obligations that have not yet been posted in the Government’s accounting system. Considering the undeniable need to address this ongoing matter of outstanding payments to the Authority’s vendors, Director O’Neal was prepared to support an appropriation of $10M because she could not ascertain the exact amount owed to the haulers at this time.
After much consultation and with the understanding that invoices will have to be presented to OMB for approval before payment authorization, she is now prepared to support the Bill in principle and an appropriation “up to” $15M, with the funding authorization remaining available until expended.
Roger E. Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of the WMA, said he recommends passage of the Bill so the WMA can pay the Solid Waste Service Providers who provide invaluable, essential services to the Territory.
The Committee voted in favor of the Bill and sent it to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. However, the committee continues to meet this hour considering the remaining of the day’s agenda.
Senators at Thursday’s morning hearing were Chairman Kurt A. Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Allison DeGazon, Janelle Sarauw, Novelle Francis, Jr., Oakland Benta, Myron Jackson, Alicia Barnes, and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas.