JAMAICA –Residents dispute $2.2M water bill
KINGSTON –– About 60 residents of the recently refurbished Bay Front Villa & Apartments, located on the grounds of the former Forum Hotel in Portmore, St Catherine, have been without a regular domestic water supply since Monday.
The Jamaica Observer has learnt that the National Water Commission (NWC) turned off the supply for outstanding bills, amounting to $2.2 million.
Residents are, however, disputing the total figure which had been paid through the use of a master meter, which allows for individual payments to be lumped together in a single bill covering all participating users. They said that following discussions with the NWC they found a marked difference between the amounts they were required to pay through that system, compared to what they were eventually charged after being provided with individual meters.
The NWC water source is connected within two feet of the property and a “master meter” or “bulk meter” is installed at that point. Homeowners are not billed as direct connections to the NWC’s facilities, and any other issues, including leaking or damaged lines beyond the “master meter”, is not the responsibility of the commission.
Efforts to get an explanation from the NWC failed Thursday. But, according to the chairman of the Bay Front Villas Citizens Association, Patrick Maitland, on taking over the houses in March, the homeowners were shocked to learn that the developer, Portmore Marina Developments Limited, had negotiated the master meter arrangement with the NWC to serve all the households, as well as the construction of additional units at the site, without their input.
In a letter dated June 28, 2016, developer Richard Lake said that under the NWC’s Subtractive Billing System, each homeowner must open an account with the commission. Without 100 per cent compliance, the NWC cannot begin subtractive billing, and the onus would be on the Bay Front Citizens’ Association to read meters and collect water charges from each householder.
Maitland said that the home owners were very shocked as the construction/renovation of the housing units were advertised as approved by the Portmore Municipal Council, which would include approvals from the other relevant government agencies, including the NWC.
He said that at a meeting on September 21 with NWC Vice-President Michael Dunn, and the commission’s Portmore Manager Jennifer Wright, representatives of the citizens’ association were advised that Bay Front Villa & Apartments are not directly connected to the commission’s sewerage and plumbing systems.
Dunn, he said, further explained that the units in the Bay Front Villas were more than 30 years old and, since the NWC did not test or verify the sewerage system, the commission’s participation is limited to the collection of the raw sewerage at the point of the “pump house”.
Dunn also expressed concerns about the operations of the pump house, as it has no standby generator. In case of a JPS power outage, the entire community could be flooded with sewerage, the meeting was told.
The NWC said, however, that it would charge citizens the usual sewage rate, of approximately 92 per cent of water consumption. But, any problem with sewerage overflow or blockage would not be the responsibility of the NWC, as the commission said it would not be responsible for the regular maintenance of the sewerage system.
The two-bedroom apartments were part of the old Forum Hotel complex in Portmore, which was sold by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) in March 2015 to Lake’s Portmore Marina Development Limited for $350 million. The idea is to transform the site into a one-of-a-kind modern residential and commercial waterfront development.