Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Homeowners owing $469m in unpaid water bills

Even as the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is working to clear a $342 million debt owed to contractors, millions more from the private sector and State agencies remain outstanding.

This was revealed when the Authority appeared before the Joint Select Committee on Land and Physical Infrastructure on Wednesday.

Responding to a question from JSC member Rushton Paray, WASA Director Customer Care Alan Poon King said the sum owed by State agencies was in the region of $56 million.

Following up on his colleague’s question, JSC member Wade Mark asked for clarification on what was owed by the private sector.

A total of $79 million is outstanding from the business (commercial) and industrial sector, while residential debt currently stands at a whopping $469 million.

To recover this debt, WASA is considering the sale of properties, which it is authorised to do under the Rates and Recovery of Charges Act.

Chairman Romney Thomas said one property is already up for sale as the Authority moves to recover unpaid rates.

“It is not something that we want to do, lightly. We have advertised properties, and as far as I am aware, there is one property that is currently before the Auctioneer, that will soon be advertised for sale.”

“We obviously have the avenue of taking people to court to try and recover outstanding amounts. We start by disconnections and that normally helps incentivise people to try and come in to pay their rates.”

He noted that in such instances, after properties are advertised for sale, persons usually come in to WASA seeking to settle their debt.

Thomas said while this is not the route the Authority would like to take, it has become necessary as WASA is “not satisfied” with the level of indebtedness, given its current financial circumstances.

Meanwhile, the WASA Chairman confirmed that water rates are set to increase when the implementation of the property tax comes on stream, but only in instances where properties are assessed at higher value, would a rate increase be effected.

“Our rates go up to a certain maximum amount under the present regime as approved by the Regulated Industries Commission. As it currently stands, the higher your property is assessed, you are going to go into a higher rate that you would have to pay, but it’s up to a certain maximum, in any event.

Right now, I think it’s $304 a quarter for residential customers, so you can’t go higher than that. But, if you property is at a higher value, certainly you will pay a higher rate – up to that maximum.”

The Committee also heard that up to 50 percent of the water WASA distributes is unaccounted for, owing to leaks, illegal connections and wastage.

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Thomas suggested that metering can assist in alleviating some of that burden.

Regarding illegal connections, he said the Authority is putting together a plan to ensure that paying customers are properly serviced. Aging infrastructure is being given high priority for repairs as around 160 new leaks are reported daily.

WASA assures, however, given the current constraints it is working within, it is finding ways to address issues as they crop up.


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