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ASG now owes ASPA $8.4 Million — current billing, locally funded accounts only

The government’s utility debt owed to the American Samoa Power Authority has ballooned to more than $8 million, while the cash-strapped power authority has been told of getting just over $45 million to fund operations over the next six months.

In its first quarter performance report for fiscal year 2012, ASPA says it “continues to struggle with its cash flow due to the aging of receivables from our customers while quality of service must be delivered on a daily basis for our people.”

“We recognize that our entire community is suffering from the affects of policy changes in the global economy as well as reduction of funding with strict regulatory compliance/environmental issues,” says the report, which covers the period of Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2011.

It also says that accounts receivable continue to increase to the “amount of $7.5 million” for the American Samoa government, not including other customers, both commercial and residential.

When asked for an update on the ASG utility debt, ASPA customer service manager Ryan Tuato’o told Samoa News yesterday that the new billing went out last Saturday which puts ASG’s current debt at $8.4 million — and this amount is for locally funded accounts only.

“Grant funding for utility is up to date and current,” said Tuato’o in the Senate gallery, just before he and other ASPA officials were called into the Senate chambers for day-three of the Fono joint budget committee reviewing ASPA’s fiscal year 2012 budget.

No questions were asked of the ASPA officials during the 10-minute hearing, but Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Lemanu Peleti Mauga officially informed the ASPA management team headed by chief executive officer Andra Samoa that the joint budget committee has introduced in the House and Senate chambers a supplemental budget for ASPA.

Lemanu explained that the supplemental of $45.39 million covers the next six months up until the end of July. He stressed to the ASPA team that this amount is based on the Fono’s initial budget ceiling for ASPA which is just over $90 million for FY 2012 but not the $118 million ASPA submitted to the ASG Budget Office.

Lemanu also pointed out that the Fono is fully aware of ASPA’s operations and funding needs, but at the same time, the Fono needs the utility’s cooperation in order to address any financial needs — but didn’t elaborate further. He did say that the Fono does not want to prevent ASPA from carrying out its projects.

He shared with ASPA officials the ongoing concerns from the Fono and the community over the high cost of living in American Samoa.

ASPA chief operation officer Reno Vivao responded saying that ASPA also wants to work closely with the Fono on various matters and will await any new request from the Fono.

Once the ASPA team left the Senate chamber, Lemanu informed members that additional review of the supplemental is needed to be done by the Legislative Financial Office and the Fono’s legal team. He said the review will center on the amounts of budget items for ASPA divisions, but the total amount of the supplemental bill will not change.

Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai said his only concern is to make sure that all federal grants for ASPA are included in the supplemental budget because some of these grants have a certain time frame in which they must be spent or they will be lost.

Lemanu agreed, saying that this is one of the issues to be reviewed by the LFO and legal team. He said the amendments will be presented to lawmakers when they return today for another joint hearing, before the final version goes through second reading in both the Senate and House.

The Fono needs to approve a final version and send it to the governor for approval before midnight Jan. 31, which is when the current ASPA budget expires.