No new taxes as City Hall unveils $3.4bln budget

by Gwen Evelyn
Guyana Chronicle
April 21, 2000

A $3.4BLN BUDGET with no tax hikes and with an emphasis on drainage and roads, was yesterday described by Deputy Mayor Mr Robert Williams as putting "a plaster on a festering sore".

The budget will see increases in stall rentals and processing fees; greater efforts in collections of taxes, especially where huge profits are reported; utilisation of the legal process and the recovery of millions of dollars through the utilisation of the process of the valuation rating appeals panel. Other resources for revenue this year will be the Constabulary fines and subvention, and Inter-American Development Bank funding of three projects.

Expenditure planned is $1.7Bln and this will be concentrated on drainage, roads, security, community activities, rehabilitation of infrastructure for solid waste management, day care and maternal and child welfare. The expected revenue is also $1.7Bln.

Despite considerations this year to reduce or eliminate certain critical services, including the day care centre, this was not done. Instead, there will be slashes in employment costs, capital works and vehicles and equipment, which Williams said, will be lowered by $178M; $466M and $370M respectively.

The Deputy Mayor said that the cuts are proposed because a deficit of $1Bln was projected when Councillors first met to consider the draft estimates of expenditure and revenue.

* Community involvement - City Hall will redouble its efforts to involve communities in the execution of works. The authority has been organising communities for this purpose and this budget provides $15M to continue such works.

* Roads - Road works will take up $105M this year. This is in addition to the $216M loan by the Inter-American Development Bank for the upgrading of roads.

* Drainage - A further $105M will be expended on drainage. The sum includes funding for the hire of vehicles and the acquisition of a new backhoe. Special attention is to be paid to the outfall channels at the 12 locations.

* Public Conveniences - Council is divesting itself of the management of all public conveniences. A small fee will have to be paid for their use.

* Promenade Gardens/Parks - Some $2M is to be spent to renovate the offices and storerooms in the Promenade Gardens. A flower shop is also to be opened as part of the effort to raise revenue.

Twenty small parks are to be established in various communities and open spaces with support of community groups.

* Litigation fees - $4M has been allocated towards this. Last year, $3M was spent in this area and Williams said the money could have been used for another more meaningful area.

* Building By-laws - City Hall will intensify action to enforce the laws and prosecute offenders with the increase in fines. The administration will establish an information desk, including a hot line to treat with complaints of corrupt practices.

* Investments - City Hall last year agreed to put its unused assets into investment and development projects. The Council now has proposals from 12 parties interested in the Luckhoo swimming pool and surrounding areas; Holmes Stelling and wharf, and nearby facilities; municipal markets and two open spaces.

* Cultural Development - The concert hall will be improved and used for its original purpose. Volunteers have offered assistance.

* Revenue Collection - Council will decentralise its collection to certain parts of the city. This may take the form of sub-offices or the presence of officers on special days to receive payments.

The Deputy Mayor said the budget takes into account the realities and legacy City Hall has inherited and the complex nature of Georgetown.

Central to this is the recognition of City Hall's administrative inadequacies and a shortage of manpower, machinery and money to cope with Georgetown.

Highlighting some of the city's problems, Williams said there is the "growing cancer" of squatting, street-vending and drains clogged with all types of litter, including non- bio-degradable plastic. Compounding the problem is the judiciary which has been granting injunctions to businesses and vendors against City Hall.

"This absurdity and confusion is the gateway to anarchy," Williams said.

He stated that the failure to succeed due to these legal actions is compounded by the lack of political will to recapture the pavements.

The current tripartite representation of the Council, Williams reminded, has not yielded the best results. But City Hall can still be a fabulous example of persons working together for the common good of citizens if political differences can be set aside.

"Unless we redouble our efforts, we would leave this chamber with a feeling of dissatisfaction, low achievement...," Williams said.

There is urgent need, he advised, for a clear and unambiguous statement from Central Government on its future relationship with City Hall. Williams said City Hall has done all it could to cooperate with Government in the implementation of programmes designed to improve the well being of the city.

A major area, Williams said, was agreeing to a request by Government and the private sector not to increase taxes from 1998 to 2001. Despite steep increases in the cost of labour, materials and supplies and equipment, Williams said it has honoured this part of the agreement.

However, City Hall expected a general support for new revenue measures. Some of the proposals require legislative action while others need Ministerial approval which has not been received.

Williams said that the Minister of Local Government has failed to establish a valuation rating appeals panel to address appeals. And, he said, Council continues to be deprived of the opportunity of recovering millions of dollars, and citizens, their lawful right to appeal against a valuation on their properties.

There is also lack of consultation in some instances between Government and City Hall, Williams said. He identified the developments in Sophia as one such instance.

"It is clear that the Municipality could not have been successful nor the Government effective without a good relationship," he said.

This relationship must be based on mutual understanding, respect and a common sense that working together is in the interest of the city and its populace, the Deputy Mayor pointed out.