$10,000 water bill?

St Jago Hills developer seeking rate increase from OUR

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 21, 2019

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AN application to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) from the St Jago Hills Development Company Limited (SJHDCL) has angered residents, who are now describing the developer as ruthless and unconscionable.

In a circular issued to residents and inviting them to a public consultation yesterday, the OUR said that SJHDCL submitted an application for approval of rates and charges which would, among other things, see residents paying a monthly fee of approximately $10,000 for water.

According to the circular, a copy of which the Jamaica Observer has obtained, the developer is asking the OUR to approve a fixed monthly charge of $5,842.42 to recover its operational costs (to be paid by all homeowners connected or unconnected to the water system); volumetric rates of $4,000 for the first 3,000 gallons (or at a rate of $1,333.33 per 1,000 gallons); and $1,500 for every 1,000 gallons or part thereof, after the first 3,000 gallons.

“SJHDL states in its proposal that it is seeking to recover, over the period 2019 to 2039, capital investments in the amount of $44,759,901.10. It has also indicated that due to the age of its equipment, it intends to develop a capital reserve fund amounting to $10,000,000.00 over the next five years for future equipment changes. SJHDL is proposing to recover these costs through the proposed volumetric rates,” the OUR circular said.

But president of the St Jago Hills Citizens' Association, Tracey-Ann Lewis-Thomas told the Observer that the community's WhatsApp group conversation teetered on the brink of a firestorm.

“This man is asking us to pay $5,000 for the next 20 years every month for recovery of the $44 million and change he apparently spent to put in the infrastructure. I am saying this is ridiculous! How can we be paying you for something that you should be putting into place if you're selling service lots and charging it back in the price of the lot? You can't look on us now because of that dilapidated system and tell us we are to pay for a system that we can't get good service out of,” Lewis-Thomas said.

“The other rate [SJHDCL] is proposing is to increase the water consumption fee, that was negligible, from what would have been like a $50 or $100 per 10,000 gallons and 1,000 gallons to something like $1,333 per 1,000 to 10,000 gallons. So it would work out that who used to pay, for example $3,100 will now pay almost $7,000 for water for the next 20 years. So persons who were paying like $6,000/$7,000 are now looking at paying over $10,000 per month for water. Listen, people can barely find bus fare to go work in the mornings. Half of the time people in the community cannot pay the $3,000 for water and [SJHDCL] expect them to pay $10,000? Them smoking weed,” Lewis-Thomas exclaimed, calling the proposal “jacked up”.

To compound the situation, Lewis-Thomas said, the community has been without water since October last year.

“They're not sending anything out to say 'Hey residents, this is the situation. This is where we're at'. I had was to tell the representative of OUR that I am very disappointed in them because they are acting as if they are not the authority. They are acting as if dem coward and dem a beg something, because nobody is supplying us with water... Is two Christmas we go without water and we're talking months,” the citizens' association president said.

At yesterday's public consultation held in the community, director at SJHDCL Michael Lake told residents that the company suffered losses amounting to $1.6 million last year, suggesting that it has been undercharging residents for delivery of the utility. He reportedly said that money is needed to have the system run efficiently. However, the OUR noted that it would be illegal to charge $5,842.42 in order to recover SJHDCL operational costs from all homeowners unconnected to the water system.


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