City sets $1.7B budget
-cemetery operation to be revamped

Stabroek News
May 29, 2004

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Months late, the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) yesterday presented a $1.7B budget for the city but there was no detailed breakdown of estimated expenditure for 2004.

Though there were minimal increases in the projections for taxes and market fees, there were reductions in other areas as the estimated revenue for last year was also $1.7B while the actual take was $1.4B. And councillors attending the much-maligned statutory meetings of the council have been put on notice that their performance will be monitored and the same goes for officers.

Chairman of the council's Finance Committee Robert Williams who is also the Deputy Mayor, unveiled the estimates yesterday at City Hall under the theme 'Retooling for Good Governance'. Revenue collection is estimated thus: taxes and compliances, $1.403B; market fees, $185M; public health fees, $42M; engineer processing, $61M; and administrative works, $9M.

The council is also set to introduce stricter arrangements for the use of the Le Repentir cemetery and will vigorously pursue a proposal for car parks and flea markets to pay taxes.

Williams announced that the city was able to achieve 82% of its collection last year and was hoping to do even better this year.

Among the areas for which expenditure was announced were capital programmes totalling $154M. Works include phase two construction of the administrative block of the council to the tune of $12M. This, according to Williams, is to provide accommodation for the administrative staff and to facilitate accommodation of equipment and officers in keeping with the pursuing of new technologies for better management and good governance.

Williams also announced that $1.5M was approved for the hiring of officers for the decentralisation of tax collection at the Kitty Campbellville, Agricola and Ruimveldt areas. Williams said the council approved $2.4M for the completion of accommodation facilities for officers of the Meat and Food Inspection Division; $16M for the acquisition of an excavator to be used on the temporary landfill site; $40M for repairs and maintenance of roads in the city and $16M to purchase skip trucks for use in cleaning alleyways, drains and outfalls.

Additionally, $60M will be spent on desilting drains and canals in Lacytown, Campbellville, Wortmanville, Kitty, North and South Ruimveldt, Cummingsburg and Subryanville.

The council also approved $20M for its Management Information System department, $214M for the City Constabulary; $35M for environment and Sanitation; $21M for food and hygiene; $16M for the abattoir; $67M for the Maternal and Child Welfare Department; $85M for day care; $60M for the City Engineer's Department; and $40M for road repairs.

Giving an explanation for the delayed presentation of the budget, Williams said the council had been pursuing institutional strengthening programmes, which required new approaches to management of the city's administration and operations. To this end, assistance was obtained from the Urban Development Programme (UDP) and the Municipal Governance Management Programme (MGMP). As a result of those encounters, Williams said, the council was forced to re-examine its previous year's budgetary allocations as against the realities of the day and the many problems which beset the city requiring new technology and modern approaches to finding solutions.

Moreover, he said events associated with instability in the city have also impacted on the measures to be taken for ensuring confidence in economic activities particularly in and around the five city markets.

However, he promised that next year's budget would be prepared before the end of October this year.

Reviewing last year, Williams said the council achieved some successes. Of the $1.7B revenue estimated to be collected last year, the council actually garnered $1.4B. Areas of performance highlighted were: taxes, $1.37B budgeted and $1.06B achieved; abattoir, $8.1M budgeted and $11M achieved; markets, $125M budgeted and $130M achieved. Williams said the council's Day Care centres raked in $12.5M, which was $2M less than what was projected, while compliance fees were $40,000 short of the $4M budgeted.

Meanwhile, processing and inspection fees, gardens and the cemetery performed below expectations and did not generate the expected revenue. Processing and inspection fees only garnered $12.5M, while $20M was budgeted; the gardens earned $2.3M of the $4.8M that was budgeted; the cemetery raised $7M out of the projected $9.6M.

External funding
Williams said that during the year the council benefited from financial assistance for infrastructure and institutional strengthening. The council received a $16M subvention from central government, which was used for the acquisition of an excavator. The Ministry of Health also supplied the council's Maternal and Child Welfare Depart-ment with $37M in materials. The Inter-American Develop-ment Bank's UDP saw $23M donated for the rehabilitation of the Stabroek Market.

The council also received assistance in the area of institutional strengthening from the MGMP and a further $1.5M from UNICEF for day care services.

Rates collection
With regard to rates collection, which has been a sore issue, Williams said various measures were pursued last year to persuade defaulting taxpayers to meet their obligations. Among the steps taken were the implementation of demand notices, house-to-house visits, telephone reminders, notices of intended prosecution and prosecution under the Petty Debt Act.

He said these measures saw some measure of success and it was necessary to keep up the momentum to ensure revenue was collected to fund programmed works.

As regards markets, Williams said stalls may be repossessed and reallocated this year, to ensure the revenue targets are met.

He said the City Engineer's department has been instructed to ensure that taxes on properties are up to date before permission was given to any homeowner to construct fences, bridges, buildings and walkways. Similarly, permission must be sought before a barber shop, beauty salon or any other business is established.

On the issue of outstanding debts, Williams said approaches have already been made to settle all amounts due on government and state properties. He announced that there is a possibility of slight increases in markets both in terms of additional stalls being provided and approvals for renovation of some stalls which would attract increased rents.

Williams announced too that additional revenues will be expected from new arrangements to be put in place for use of the cemetery. "Council will also vigorously pursue with stakeholders the new revenue sources proposed some years ago in the operation of car parks and flea markets," Williams said.

Williams said the council will no longer subsidise the burial of destitute persons and this cost will fall fully on the Ministry of Health and other concerned agencies. With effect from July, the council will charge $3,000 for burials of adults and $2,000 for children.

The council will also reduce the number of grave diggers on its payroll and funeral homes contracted to do a burial will have to take full responsibility.

The new arrangements are that the funeral home will prepare all graves and tombs, with cemetery operatives being responsible for identifying measuring and marking out burial spots and providing supervision and security.

Williams said where no funeral home is involved, those requesting the facility would be required to bear the full cost, which will be set at the weekend rate: caskets $13,000; ordinary tomb $9,000; earth burial $3,000. The cost of the land will also be added, thus: caskets, $500; tombs $4,780/$2,680; earth $4,060/$960 and $1,500 for children.

The cost for repairing tombs, cleaning and other improvements will be determined as requested. Williams said this decision was necessary since the revenue from the cemetery last year was just $7M, while the council expended $22M on maintenance and other works.

Human Resources
The council says it has decided to confront the issue of employment cost which for the last year consumed some 60% of the actual budget. "This year, it was decided to freeze recruitment. With effect from May 15th, 2004, vacancies will only be filled after sound justification before a specially selected Budget Monitoring Commit-tee", Williams said.

The Public Relations Department of the council, he said, did not live up to expectations. "Too many complaints have been received from members of the press about their inability to access information" from the department, Williams said. He added that the relationship between the Mayor's office and the department has been strained. "A solution to the differences will be found before June 4th 2004 in the interest of the furtherance of the image of the city", he added.