THE Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has expressed 'surprise' at Tuesday's passing of a resolution by the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation that seeks to have Corporate Area residents pay for the repair and replacement of street lights.
According to the light and power company, a resolution of that nature warrants consultations with the company, as a number of issues would have to be resolved before any such change could be made.
"I find it strange that they would move a resolution without us doing the research and getting back to them. We don't have an adversarial relationship, we are accessible to all the councillors, they have our cell numbers and we respond to all their complaints, including street lights," Jennifer McKurdy, JPS parish manager for Kingston and St Andrew North, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.
McKurdy said that both he and the manager for JPS Kingston and St Andrew South attended last week's KSAC Roads and Works Committee meeting, and were asked if it would be possible for private citizens to fix their own street lights. She said that they had promised to research the issue and respond but, before they were able to do so, the resolution was passed.
Meanwhile, JPS communications boss Winsome Callum told the Observer Monday night that, currently, there is no restriction on people who live some distance away from the main, or where electricity is unavailable, to go into the JPS office and work out an arrangement.
The process is usually for a certified contractor to install a street light at their home or in their community, and have it passed by the JPS. The owner of the property then becomes responsible for the bills and the maintenance of that light. However, she said that private citizens being responsible for the service or repair of streets lights in areas for which the KSAC is responsible is a totally different matter, requiring intense discussions on how it can be approached.
The resolution is one of the most controversial to be passed by the current KSAC administration, led by Mayor Angela Brown Burke. It was opposed by minority Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of the council, as well as three People's National Party (PNP) councillors who abstained from voting. The resolution was eventually passed by a 16-10 majority.
The Observer reported Tuesday that PNP councillor Ian Telfer (Hughenden) had tabled a motion in the Council, seeking to have the public contribute more to maintaining street lights by paying for the repairs.
This would be in addition to some $3.4 billion from recently increased property tax, which generates revenue the Government and the councils use to pay for the street lights and garbage collection. However, despite the heavy increase in property taxes in April, both services continue to suffer from underfunding.
In his motion, Telfer said that the KSAC has been having "major challenges" in keeping the street lights in the Corporate Area operational. He noted that some private citizens, on occasions, have paid for repairs and replaced defective lights with "lights of their own", but that these were eventually removed by the JPS.
He admitted that neither the KSAC nor the JPS can allow private citizens to add street lights to the grid as this would create "greater problems of maintenance and accountability, in addition to increasing operational costs", but insisted in his motion that the KSAC should "mandate" the JPS to accept payments from private citizens.
Telfer said that there were instances where citizens have paid to repair or replace street lights, but the JPS said that the practice is illegal.
JLP councillor Vernon McLeod (Havendale) said that the JPS should find cash flow "to fund its business if it wants to stay in business".
"The KSAC should penalise the JPS, and don't pay them if they don't provide the service," McLeod said.
Another JLP councillor, Duane Smith (Chancery Hall), said that the resolution would set a dangerous precedent, and could open the floodgates for citizens to be asked to pay for other public services for which they are already taxed.
"It is quite obvious that the councillor is trying to remove the burden and responsibility of maintaining the street lights from the KSAC, and placing them squarely on the shoulders of the public. And what is most unfortunate about it is that it seems to have the backing of members who should know better," Smith said.
Councillor Delroy Williams (JLP, Seivright Gardens) said that support of the resolution would be a reward for negligence on the part of the JPS. He said the KSAC should move aggressively to get the JPS to carry out its responsibilities.
His PNP colleague, Councillor Karl Blake (Greenwich Town), who seconded the motion, said that it could not be illegal for citizens to help to secure their communities. But, PNP Councillor Eugene Kelly (Whitfield Town), who abstained, said that while the motion had a good intention, citizens were already paying property tax, out of which the JPS was paid by the KSAC for the street lights.
"The JPS is paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the street lights, and if they don't meet their obligation they should be sued," Kelly said.
Another PNP councillor, Kevin Taylor (Duhaney Park), who also abstained, said that if citizens were to pay for the repair of street lights, they should be able to have the payment deducted from their property tax.
— Additional reporting by Balford Henry