Playing With WMA and Vendors Could Get Hot, Says Senator

Sen. Sarauw, left, asked Roger Merritt, right, about his recent pay raise. (Screenshot from Senate Livestream)

Roger Merritt, executive director of the Waste Management Authority, Tuesday gave a long list of federal grants the Authority was reaping, but when he got to the $35 million the executive branch was recommending for the Authority, he said it was not enough.

He told senators at the Committee on Finance that the Authority needed another $28 million to pay off vendors for work done since 2017. He said the Authority had been doing its part by shearing almost $6 million off its annual spending.

All the senators, however, did not appear convinced. Sen. Janelle Sarauw said she saw many positions at high salaries. She said, “There is a big gap between leadership and workers’ salaries.”

Specifically, she asked Merritt about his salary and a recent increase. Sarauw emailed the Source after the hearing, saying Merritt’s salary went from $165,000 to $175,000 and “I’m not satisfied with his increase because he needed to show that the agency was on the right track. The issues we had while he was there when he left and returned are still there. Raises should come with improved performance.”

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory questioned whether the Authority was “giving raises to top management and sacrificing the vendors.” WMA, on its website, has a position open for a Wastewater Plant operator, and the salary would be $39,000.

Frett-Gregory said the Senate had in a previous year bumped up appropriation for the Authority by $10 million, and the solution is not always to come before the Legislature and ask for more money. “We don’t make money here.”

Sen. Kurt Vialet looked at the situation differently. He said yes, the Authority needed to make some changes, but as far as not paying the vendors, he said, “You are playing with fire.” He said the government has enough money to pay vendors, and he will try to get that money to the Authority.

He also urged the Authority to “speed up” the process in the sewer project in downtown Christiansted. According to Vialet, residents have been waiting four years for that project to be completed.

Merritt testified that “Approximately five hundred tons per day of waste are disposed of daily, and over 180,000 tons of waste are disposed of annually in the territory’s landfills. The average Virgin Islander produces approximately nine pounds of trash per day, which is almost 40 percent above the U.S. average.”

He added, “The Authority is preparing to eliminate the majority of the public unmanned bin sites throughout the territory as they lend themselves to illegal dumping and pose environmental and public health risks. The plan is to construct and operate convenience centers throughout the territory, like those found at Mandahl on St. Thomas and Peters Rest in St. Croix.”

Funding for the convenience centers, according to Merritt, is coming from a Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief from the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens asked Merritt to resolve a situation where a resident in LaGrange was picking up junk from disposal bins and bringing it back to LaGrange and placing it on other people’s property as well as his own.

Merritt said he would.

The meeting was attended by Sens. Kurt Vialet, Janelle Sarauw, Donna Frett-Gregory, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Jr., Carla Joseph, Franklin Johnson, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Javan James, and Kenneth Gittens.