GUAM MAYORS COPE WITHOUT ELECTRIC POWER

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By Theresa Merto Pacific Daily News

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (September 10, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---Mayors are trying other ways to light up their offices after the Guam Power Authority cut off their power last week.

"It is very unfortunate they had to do this to us," said Yona Mayor Jose Terlaje.

On Friday, power agency crews started disconnecting power to village mayors' offices and community centers, which owe the agency about $214,000 in past-due power bills, the latest in a series of recent disconnections to government power accounts.

Some mayors said they don't know when power will be restored, but said they hope that a bill to appropriate the needed funds will be passed soon.

Power spokesman Art Perez did not return numerous calls yesterday.

Open Windows, Doors

Yigo Mayor Robert Lizama said he will use a generator to power his office lights and a typewriter.

"It is not a big generator. We'll still have to open doors, windows and blinds," because the generator cannot power air conditioning, he said.

His office gets about 25 to 30 visits a day from village residents seeking assistance, including verifications of residency, he said.

But not all mayors have generators available.

Terlaje said he may run an extension cord to a nearby fire station to get power.

"We are always the first ones to get turned off," Terlaje said. "The victims here are really the people."

Negative Effects

Barrigada resident Joleen Borja said the power authority was only doing its job when it disconnected the mayors' electricity.

"It is only fair that the power was cut off," Borja said. "If you don't pay your bills, you don't get power. It is that simple."

But Borja also said that residents who depend on the mayors' offices for help will be negatively affected by the disconnections.

Lauren Miranda, 26, of Dededo said the power authority should have taken into consideration how disconnections would affect services.

"I think that the power should not have been cut off because it would be difficult for the mayors to conduct business," Miranda said. "How are people supposed to get the help they need?"

Crackdown

The power agency this year started to crack down on delinquent government accounts that have accumulated a total debt of $43 million.

In March, power to mayors' offices was disconnected. The power agency planned to disconnect mayors' offices again last month, but the Guam Mayors' Council used $30,000 from its personnel budget to make a partial payment and delay disconnection.

That same month, three government of Guam agencies also were disconnected. According to Pacific Daily News files, Perez refused then to name the three agencies, citing the possibility that those agencies would make payments by the end of that day, and later be reconnected.

Recently power to more than 1,000 streetlights was cut off because of $6.8 million in unpaid billings dating back to fiscal 1998. The power agency has said about 99 percent of those lights were reconnected last week after the governor signed several promissory notes outlining payment plans with the power agency.

Power officials have said electricity was cut because payments were 120 days past due and mayors' offices -- like all customers -- were notified that their power is subject to immediate disconnection for non-payment.

Lack of Funds

Lizama said mayors received notice of the impending disconnection about a month ago, but were not informed on the day their power was cut off.

"I did get calls from a few mayors asking if I lost power," Lizama said. "I'm not alone in this."

This year, mayors fell behind in their power bills because the Mayors' Council was not included in the utility bank, a government account established by lawmakers in the fiscal 2001 budget to pay for government utility bills, Mayors' Council President Paul McDonald has said.

Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would appropriate money to pay the past due amount, but they have not gone into session to vote on it, Lizama said. The bill, by Sen. Eddie Calvo, R-Maite, would appropriate $500,000 from the Village Streets Fund to cover mayors' electric bills and other utility debts.

Calvo, who has oversight of the Mayors' Council, said the Legislature could hold a hearing on the bill as early as this week but added that senators also need to work on the fiscal 2002 budget bill.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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