ASPA will offer one-time rebate if ASG pays $9M debt
Residential customers considered living in “high elevation” areas with no municipal access roads will get a break in their solid waste collection fee, according to American Samoa Power Authority executive director Utu Abe Malae, who also stated that if the government pays its utility debt of just over $9 million, customers will be entitled to a one-time rebate on their electric bill.
Utu shared the good news with lawmakers during last Thursday’s Fono joint budget committee hearing to review the fiscal year 2014 budget for ASPA, which is a proposing $133.74 million, an increase from the FY 2013 budget of $115.45 million.
Utu was accompanied to the hearing by ASPA board chairman Fonoti Perelini Perelini and three ASPA senior management officials.
During the hearing, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i raised the old issue which, over the years, has resulted in people complaining about having to pay the full solid waste collection fee when they don’t receive that service — that is, when ASPA employees actually come out to collect their trash.
Magalei pointed to the complaints and said he does not mind paying the rate, if the service is provided by ASPA.
Some of the complaints are from residents who live in villages where roads are narrow or further out in the outlying villages.
During the budget hearing, Utu explained that this issue is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis with a break to be given to residential customers, who do not get the ASPA trash collection service. He said the 2010 consultant study — commissioned by ASPA at the time — combined together residential and different commercial rates, which he believes shouldn’t have been done.
He said there are two parts of the solid waste fee — collection and disposal. So even if it’s not collected, the trash still needs to be disposed of at the landfill.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries for further clarification on the residential collection break in fees, Utu said the ASPA board has allowed for ‘High Elevation’ residential customers to be reclassified to a lower solid waste rate, from $8.64 to $4.37, which is half the regular residential rate.
“High elevation residential customers are those who live in high elevations and do not have municipal access roads,” he explained. “These customers are hauling their trash to a bin along the road or in their cars to find an available bin to dispose of their trash.”
“The initial areas being assessed are Fagatogo, Pago Pago and Atu’u. Right now we have assessed about 100 customers in these areas that qualify for this rate,” he said. “This assessment is on a case by case basis and is being evaluated by the ASPA meter readers and the solid waste staff.”
“We will consider other areas of high elevation on a case by case basis on the criteria of accessibility for trash collection and assessment by our ASPA staff,” Utu told Samoa News last Friday.
Sen. Leatualevao Asifoa requested ASPA to forgive the ASG debt and pointed out that in the FY 2014 budget all departments and agencies have included in their budget money to pay utility costs.
(Samoa News should point out that when the FY 2014 budget call went out in June, all ASG department and offices were told to include in the budget an estimate funding for utilities.)
Leatualevao inquired about the government's debt and wanted to know how ASG was doing as far as paying it down. Utu replied that he hopes in the new fiscal year, things will be better. He added the ASG Treasurer has been very good in making steady payments with the current debt at $9.4 million.
If the ASG Treasurer is able to pay off the entire $9.4 million debt, ASPA can rebate $3.5 million to all rate-payers and the rebate would be about a 30-cent reduction in the rate for one month, said Utu, to praises by the committee.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine joined Atualevao in requesting ASPA to forgive the ASG debt, saying this would be Utu and Fonoti’s greatest help for the government. Soliai said both men, who are well-respected in the community — have returned to American Samoa to serve the people and government — and forgiving the debt will be a great contribution to help the government preserve its financial resources for other services.
Utu did not provide a direct response to the request to forgive the debt.
Leatualevao also wanted to know if there is a possibility of having debit meters installed in government facilities, especially in the schools, in an effort to reduce costs. He said there are some schools that leave their air conditioners on all weekend.
Utu revealed that this has been discussed with the ASG Treasurer and schools have been selected for a “pilot” program using debit meters. He said there are still ongoing discussions with the Treasurer about this issue.
The committee inquired about the “Boil Water Notice” that has been in place for years, and Utu replied that “this is a very serious matter” for ASPA, which is working to address the notice that will hopefully be lifted by early next year.
He said ASPA has identified five new water wells, including one in Vaipito (located in the Pago Pago hills), with the plan to have a total of nine new water wells to replace the nine wells that can no longer be used.
ASPA is hoping to get the first five new wells on line by end of the year, Utu said, adding they are also working on water wells for Manu’a.
He also pointed out to lawmakers that one of the difficult tasks for ASPA is to “eliminate [water] leaks,” or water loss, in the water system, which was about 65%- 70% early this year but is now down to 60% and ASPA “needs to get it down to 40%.”
Utu also shared with the committee that ASPA plans to revive the microfiltration plant — located in the Pago hills — to help with the water situation on Tutuila.
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