MIS Delinquencies on Hold
By Catherine Cluett
A long list of delinquent Molokai Irrigation System accounts are temporarily off the hook for immediate action, according to Duane Okamoto of the Department of Agriculture. Okamoto attended an MIS meeting last Tuesday and reported that although it had been previously announced that collections on the delinquent accounts would begin October 1, “it’s highly unlikely” that action will be taken at that time.
The Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) serves Molokai’s homestead farmers as well as other agricultural companies such as Monsanto and Mycogen. Many homestead accounts are behind on payments and plans for collection had been made.
Okamoto said that after hearing comments from the community about providing discounts on delinquent debts and working on an individual case basis to resolve the problem, the MIS “has accepted that as a concept.” He said the current goal is to get delinquent users on a payment plan. Twenty-five accounts hold most of the delinquencies, according to Okamoto.
“We’ll look at accounts that haven’t been drawing water for a few years but are in debt,” he said. Okamoto explained they will consider waiving some fees for many such inactive accounts.
The MIS board agreed that working on a case by case basis to settle accounts will probably be more effective than an umbrella collection program.
MIS water usage has decreased on Molokai this year, however. Homestead users showed a 14 percent decrease in usage, while non-homesteader users such as Monsanto decreased usage by 32 percent in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. That means a 22.5 percent decrease in water usage on the system as a whole, according to Okamoto. He said that could point to rate increases if usage remains low.
Because of limited water supplies, non-homestead users have been operating on a mandated 20 percent decrease in water usage. But non-homestead companies must use above 850 million gallons per year to qualify for a bulk rate discount. That leaves Molokai’s large agricultural users in a catch-22 position. But, Okamoto pointed out, the 20 percent decrease is mandated by nature’s limitations, and there is not much MIS administrators can do about it.
State budget cuts are affecting jobs and department budgets across the board, but the MIS is in the green for now, reported Okamoto. He said that while other Department of Agriculture water systems across the state are losing revenues, Molokai’s 2008-2009 fiscal year results show a surplus in funds generated from acreage assessment on Molokai. But those funds are placed in a budget pool for the entire state system, which as a whole is experiencing deficits. With state layoffs looming, Okamoto does not anticipate MIS employees will be on the chopping block because they are “specially” funded, or paid for through federal or trust funds.