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'Some will have to go!'

St Elizabeth PC to remove some standpipes amidst ballooning water bills

By GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 12, 2014    

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BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Against a backdrop of an $85.4-million bill from the National Water Commission (NWC), Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher told the monthly council meeting last week that some community standpipes will have to be removed.

"I have no choice but to say some of these standpipes will have to go," Fisher, who is the ruling People's National Party (PNP) councillor for the Balaclava Division, told colleague councillors.

The mayor said further consultations would take place before a decision was taken as to which stand pipes — meant to provide 'social water' for people without connections to National Water Commission lines — will be removed.

There are said to be 230 standpipe facilities in St Elizabeth, which has less than 50 per cent of households receiving piped water from the NWC.

In some cases, Fisher said standpipe facilities were not as badly needed as elsewhere. He cited Braes River as a case where people could be encouraged to connect to NWC lines rather than depend on standpipes.

Also, he said in come communities stand pipe facilities were being abused with people selling water elsewhere.

Some councillors pointed out that a letter from the NWC outlining the outstanding debt and which also asked for a meeting with the council to arrange for settlement of the debt was riddled with errors. In fact, some of the listed standpipes were non-existent and a few were actually outside of St Elizabeth, councillors said.

But Fisher said that even with those errors being taken into consideration, it was obvious that serious rationalisation would have to take place.

Fisher subsequently told the Jamaica Observer that in the past, such water bills would have been covered by the local government ministry.

However, a year ago notice was served to the council that it would have to take greater responsibility for the payment of local government services such as water.

Fisher told the Observer yesterday that at the heart of the matter is the huge shortfall in the collection of property taxes which fund Local Government services such as social water, minor water supplies, garbage collection and disposal — the latter implemented by the National Solid Waste Management Authority — and the upkeep of street lights.

Fisher said the parish council would be proactively assisting a drive to collect property taxes in communities across the parish.

Meantime, Fisher told the council meeting last week that he had no idea how the current standpipe bill will be paid.

"...It will have to be taken up at ministry level," he said.

The discussion on standpipes followed lengthy debate about water in St Elizabeth and the need for a structured programme to improve rainwater harvesting.

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