City Hall needs to get serious Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
December 4, 2006

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The poor condition of the city's abattoir is a source of concern, but so too is the failure of the City Council to settle its indebtedness to the electricity company.

A few weeks ago the City Council found that at a number of its locations, its electricity supply was cut off, including at the abattoir. Since then we have been hearing about the possibility of road lights being disconnected and now about a possible shortage of meat because of the effects of the power disconnection on works at the abattoir.

I urge the Guyana Power and Light not to be pressured into reconnecting the electricity supply at any of the locations of City Hall until such time as it pays off its debts to the power company. The Guyana Power and Light is not, I believe, going to turn off road lights in the City.

And the lights also should not be put on back at the abattoir unless the bills for that particular facility are cleared. There is not going to be any shortage of meat for the Christmas holidays because of the conditions at the abattoir in Water Street .

There are other abattoirs in the country and these will be fully utilised so as to meet the demand for the holidays.

The present crisis in which the City Council finds itself should force it to make certain changes. The first thing that should be done is for an emergency meeting to be called to deal with the present crisis, even if this meeting has to be held in the dark. I am surprised that ever since the disconnection there has been no emergency meeting.

City Hall must at that meeting address the issue of its high administrative costs. It must also address the issue of unrealistic rates and taxes for residential purposes. I have on more than one occasion raised this issue of the low rates and taxes charged to residential property owners.

Yet last week, I heard talk about the businesses that owe monies to Council. I did not hear any talk about the fact that businesses pay far more in rates and taxes than the cost of the services provided to them, a point that is vividly driven home whenever there is an hour and a half downpour in the city and many businesses find their stores under water.

The City Council should now move aggressively to levy on property owners - both business and residential - who owe rates and taxes. It is tiring and frustrating for every year, the City Council to be offering amnesties to ratepayers, only to find that the next year, the same problem recurs.

Council needs to let the public know just what percentage of business owners pay their taxes each year and what percentage of residential rate payers have paid their accounts for the year. Then they must press on the government to establish a municipal court so that if any premises is in default by more than three years, efforts can be taken to put that property up for sale so as to recoup the rates and taxes.

City Hall has the potential, without having to introduce new taxes, to balance its Budget. If it raises it rates and taxes on residential properties so that this can at least cover for the existing services provided, if it de-links the abattoir, the markets and the City Engineers Department and convert these into self-financing corporate bodies, it will find that it will be able to emerge out of the red.

Of course this will require that City Hall examines the reasons for its high administrative costs and while this cost as a percentage of total expenditure will decline with an increased collection, it must be asked whether some of the positions should not be done away with. I for one cannot see why a cash-strapped Town Hall can afford the luxury of a public relations department and why the Mayor needs a personal assistant.

If Council cannot pay its electricity bills, it should consider some changes to its administrative structure.

I am pleased to note there is a plan to develop the new vendors' market in Water Street . This, however, must be administered as a corporate body so that the city itself can benefit financially from the new development. I urge the Council to consider similar plans for the Kitty and La Penitence Markets.

These projects can be revenue earners for Council, so that instead of waiting for the containers tax and the parking meters and the municipal lottery, Council can convert to a business entity that shows a surplus rather than the embarrassing situation that it currently finds itself in relation to electrical power.

All that it will take for City Hall to turn the proverbial corner is a shift in thinking. Rather than thinking about meeting its expenses, Town Hall should be thinking about becoming a business operation whereby citizens pay an economic cost for direct services such as garbage collection and a fixed tariff for indirect services such as roads, streetlights, cleaning of drains, etc.

At the same time as Council tries to meet the demand of its creditors, it should move to levy on defaulting property owners who owe Council hundreds of millions.