A Senate committee is reviewing the possibility of having utility bills adjusted to take into account possible leaks that boost the amount owed the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.
Sen. Sixto Igisomar’s (R-Saipan) Public Utilities and Transportation Committee is currently reviewing Sen. Paul Manglona’s (Ind-Rota) Senate Bill 20-80, which seeks to allow customers who meet certain conditions that point at the possibility of a leak at their end of the meter, such as getting a bill that excessively exceeds the customer’s average monthly usage of water over the previous year; who has had a leak occur on their side of the meter; and who has provided proof confirming that the leak was repaired.
These may make these CUC customers eligible for a financial adjustment to their water or waste water charges if validated.
The bill further provides that leak adjustments would cover no more than two consecutive months and only one financial adjustment may be associated to billed usage every two years.
Tinian Municipal Council member Antonio San Nicolas Borja supports the legislation. He finds the bill “reasonable and fair.”
“Establishing water or water waste leak adjustment on the utility bill of all CUC consumers in the CNMI could really help people and families who are burdened from all these unexplained increases in water and sewage leak,” he said, adding that passage of the bill would allow everyone to meet other financial obligations.
Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig, in his comments, supported the legislation as well after referring to the two-month adjustment period as “reasonable” due to the fact that other mentioned conditions for the adjustment prevented “substantial loss for CUC.”
CUC, however, is not happy with the legislation. According to CUC executive director Gary Camacho, CUC is required to act at full cost recovery to “meet its daily expenditure obligations for providing power, water, and wastewater services to every customer.”
“CUC’s responsibility ends at the meter as its rate structure accounts for costs incurred to this point only. The lost income from a water leak and subsequent wastewater assessment is not considered in CUC’s rate structure and therefore, would be an additional burden to all consumers,” Camacho said.
He further pointed out that a dispute process was in place if the consumer is dissatisfied with CUC’s response to the dispute. “This administrative process also provides for either a formal or an informal settlement of a claim that high water charges are a result of a leak which has been repaired within a reasonable time after detection,” he said, adding that it also provides enough opportunity for a consumer to present evidence related to the “reasonableness and fairness of a billing, which include water usage during the period of a leak.”
The committee tabled the bill in order to follow up on CUC’s comments. According to Igisomar, CUC’s comments were obtained after the committee adjourned.