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Administration to help CHCC pay utility bills

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TO prevent a daily six-hour disconnection from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. power grid, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said the administration will help the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. pay its monthly utility bills.

In a media briefing on Friday morning, Torres said he met recently with CUC board chair Miranda Manglona and CHCC board chair Lauri Ogumoro.

“We came to an agreement and there are some terms and conditions,” he said. “We agreed on making those payments. There are other pending issues, like arrears, that need to be addressed.”

There will be no power disconnection at the hospital, he added.

Torres acknowledged the importance of the two autonomous government entities.

“We need CHCC, especially with this pandemic,” he said. “At the same time, [electric] power is critical to any department, school, hospital, and households. These [public health and utilities] are the two most critical components of our island so we are sitting with both agencies to address the issue and move forward.”

CUC said CHCC owes $35 million in unpaid utility bills.

 

The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. board headed by Miranda Manglona holds a special meeting on Friday. Photo by Junhan B. Todino

CHCC, for its part, said the monthly utilities of the hospital cost between $350,000 and $400,000.

CHCC said it owes CUC about $23 million, an amount that accumulated for over 10 years. It reached $35 million because of the penalties, which are almost 50% of the principal, CHCC said.

In future discussions, the governor said they will review the late fees and other penalties that CHCC has incurred in the last 10 years.

CHCC is also asking the Legislature to pass a bill that will reclassify the utility rate of CHCC from government to commercial, which is a lower rate.

Payment plan

On Friday, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. board told management to disconnect from the CUC power grid on Sept. 8, Tuesday, if CHCC fails to pay at least $250,000 on that day.

CUC board members are chair Miranda V. Manglona, vice chair Weston Thomas Deleon Guerrero, secretary Jovita SN Paulino, Matthew Holley and Ignacio L. Perez, who represents the Commonwealth Development Authority.

For his part, CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho reported that CUC and CHCC officials met with Gov. Torres to discuss a payment schedule.

He said CHCC committed to pay  CUC $100,000 with the CNMI providing an additional $150,000 for a total of $250,000 each month starting this month.

Camacho said the parties agreed that the $250,000 will be applied to current CHCC bills first.

The parties also agreed to execute an agreement memorializing the terms of the payment plan, he added.

He noted that in 2015, CUC and CHCC signed a memorandum of agreement on a payment scheme: $150,000 upfront then $300,000 each succeeding month.

CHCC was only able to pay  $150,000, he added.

The newest payment agreement will state that if CHCC again fails to make timely payments, CUC will disconnect the hospital for six hours each day.

"We are very hopeful that they [CHCC] will…fulfill [the] agreement,” CUC board chair Miranda Manglona said. “We want to continue providing water, power, and wastewater services because we need to support everyone. It doesn't have to be commercial, residential, or government clients.”

Camacho said the governor had already advised the Department of Finance to remit $150,000 to CUC on Tuesday.

But he said CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna told him that CHCC agreed to pay $50,000 a month and not $100,000.

Asked for comment, Muna said on Sunday: “We never said we could pay more than $50,000 from local funds and…we all know we can’t charge federal programs for utilities not consumed.”  

In July, the CUC board demanded that CHCC pay at least $5 million within 30 calendar days or CUC would disconnect the hospital from the power grid for six hours daily.

CHCC sought help from the administration which remitted $2.5 million to CUC on July 29.

Since then, however, CHCC has made no additional payment to CUC.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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