City Council pledges to do better
-calls for more gov't support
Stabroek News
March 16, 2003

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The performance of the Mayor and City Council in 2002 was not satisfactory "in material terms; however, they have been able to determine their weakness and establish mechanisms ready for implementation to improve their performance this year."

This was the observation of Deputy Mayor Robert Williams, who in his capacity as the Chairman of the Council's Finance Committee, was at the time presenting the council's budget on Friday.

He said during last year the council had held 24 statutory meetings which was the required amount for a year, three extra-ordinary meetings and 130 committee meetings.

Williams noted that while those meetings may appear to some "to be mere talk shops," they were necessary to enable them to understand, appreciate and provide reasonable and fair recommendations in an effort to maintain the integrity of the city.

He said since the business of the council was multifarious it was managed by a system of committees which discuss, debate, deliberate and make recommendations on different matters and issues. Their recommendations, Williams said, were submitted by way of agenda, to the council's fortnightly statutory meetings, for its approval or otherwise.

According to Williams several substantial projects were undertaken successfully last year and these included: institutional strengthening to the point of implementation; infrastructure improvements in markets; drainage works in central Georgetown; and the completion of auditing, of financial statements up to and including the year 2000.

However, there were areas of disappointment and these included: failure to advance the process of settlement of undeveloped areas such as Sophia, Rasville and Yarrow Dam; a resolution of the difference between Guyana Power and Light and the Mayor and City Council, which resulted in the council's inability to implement the street lighting programme; failure to complete the valuation exercise to allow for adjustments in property assessments, especially in areas where owners escaped the revenue net; and maintenance of the key municipal buildings, including City Hall, Kitty, Albouystown and Bourda markets.

And some of the major worrying signs for the council last year included the failure to conclude and approve the Greater Georgetown Development Plan, the opening of new institutions both financial and administrative in other parts of the country thus reducing prospects and opportunities in the city, and the proposed townships in other areas of Regions 3 and 4. He also noted statements from officials such as: "tourists can go to the hinterland without passing through Georgetown. And you can, reach Timehri from Berbice by boarding a flight from Rose Hall."

"It is therefore felt that this city, our Garden City may well be a ghost town in another five years unless these concerns are urgently addressed."

He said that last year council collected the sum of $1.32B out of a budgeted $1.42B representing 93% as against the 80% collected the previous year.

Williams said that the council was aware of a number of property owners paying residential taxes though carrying on business operations.

"This is why we had hoped to conclude the valuation improvement exercise under the Urban Development Programme. This exercise is still ongoing. Property owners who indulge in the failure to have their property reassessed will not escape the retroactivity since we knew when the plans for construction were approved by us and when construction started," Williams warned.

He stressed that taxes were the main source of revenue to facilitate their operations, pointing out that the council had not increased the percentage on assessment since 1998.

Relationship with the government
Williams said that while there had been a public declaration of co-operation by the government, this had not been demonstrated at the level expected.

According to the deputy mayor, the many issues crucial to the management of the city which required co-operation from the government had been unnecessarily delayed by operatives in the system.

And some examples of these delays were; the Inter-Development American Bank (IDB) funded programme on a temporary land-fill site; settlement of all outstanding taxes; the housing of workers of the municipality and squatters in general; the functioning of the rating appeal panel; and discussions on new revenue sources.

However, the government has been helpful in other areas including the management of solid waste.

According to Williams in this regard the government had committed itself to assisting the Georgetown municipality in accessing funds for an incinerator to manage pathological and other medical and mixed waste.

Also last year the council received $10M from the government for a mini clean-up project. "This yielded good results and many citizens expressed satisfaction about the works in their communities."

Further, Williams said that the council received $250M as a direct transfer from government and this was separate and apart from payments made by other government ministries for rates and taxes.

Property tax reform
Under this programme, which Williams said was started last year, the council catered for providing the municipality with accurate, up-to-date property tax rolls, providing a system of valuation, which was far more accurate, reliable and easily understood by citizens; providing the municipality with technology and training to fully computerize the administration of property tax; having each property and its description on record in the computer system; and making tax bills computer generated. It also recommended more effective methods of redress against defaulters.

According to Williams this would be done by the use of a sophisticated computer software package to enable Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) to be done.

He said that the CAMA package would allow for an aerial photograph to be taken of every property within the boundaries of the municipality and each property would be individually measured and photographed by teams on the ground.

He said that this was in progress in different sections of the city and he urged property-owners to co-operate.

Public Health Department
Last year collection in the department had been reasonable, said Williams, but noted there was much more work to be done in this area to collect outstanding sums from those operations concerned with, or providing certain health services in the city.

For a second year Williams expressed his concern about the state of the abattoir and the problem with the commencement of its rehabilitation.

He recalled that US$75,000 was budgeted under the Urban Development Programme to be used in 2001 but it was shifted to 2002 and yet in the year 2003 the council had not had movement in this area of work.

"The abattoir is a very crucial aspect of our public health responsibility. It is concerned with food hygiene and the careful inspection and slaughtering of animals for human consumption."

In terms of fines for offences committed by citizens, Williams said that the council intensified its policing operations in different sections and fines of $3.2M were collected, which was the same amount budgeted for last year.

Williams noted that there were about one hundred and fifty cases pending in court. He said that the Public Health's Anti-Litter Unit made out over twenty such cases a month, however, the amounts were paid into the consolidated fund of the national treasury.

Williams said they were still trying their utmost to have the sums transferred to the municipality.

In terms of expenditure for last year, Williams said that last year's budgeted amount was $1,652,715,719 but this was later revised to $1,638,510,736.

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