Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Mayor Nir Barkat.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mayor Nir Barkat’s declarations were alarming at his press conference Monday.
Some 2,150 municipal employees are to be fired in the coming days as the municipality enters an emergency situation caused by budget shortfalls for 2018.
This is the result of wrong steps and decisions by many parties, but the bottom line is not good. Barring a dramatic development, this city is going to suffer in terms of services and improvements.
As has been the case for many years, the needs of this city exceed its tax revenues, so significant financial support from the government is required. Even when Ehud Olmert, an established political figure, was mayor, the city had to struggle – including demonstrations and strikes by the city’s employees – in order to obtain supplemental funding. In that sense, nothing has changed.
However, two things have seriously changed: the growing sums of additional funds required and the highly personal aspect of the struggle between our mayor and the finance minister.
What began as an expected scrimmage three years ago between Barkat and Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) has mushroomed into outright war, which is affecting residents.
Barkat sounded emotional on Monday, facing the local and national press with an emphasis on his sense of being the victim in a play he does not control. Emotions aside, there are several basic issues to address. This city has the highest number of residents living in poverty.
Accordingly, the total sum of the discounts and property tax (arnona) exemptions required by law has reached the staggering sum of NIS 700 million and funds are lacking to provide the municipal services this city needs – welfare, education, cleaning and more. Yet the population is growing at a fast rate.
Sources at both the Finance Ministry and Safra Square depict harsh treatment by the ministry’s high-ranking clerks’ treatment of their colleagues at Safra Square. Remarks have been reported such as, “That’s the situation, deal with it.” “If you don’t have enough money, fire your employees,” and “Who cares about Jerusalem?” Kahlon hasn’t answered Barkat’s phone calls for months and high-ranking ministry officials allow themselves to say to an elected person – in this case, the mayor – “It’s your failure and your problem and you should resign.”
At his press conference, Barkat announced a list of steps he is taking immediately. There will be a series of cancellations (including the Jerusalem Marathon) as well as severe cuts in educational programs and welfare services (affecting the poorest city in the country!) and in cleaning services, which are already inadequate.
Altogether, the cuts will save some NIS 250 million, about 4% of the city’s budget, and will require the firing of 2,150 employees, who will join the 1,700 Teva employees already facing dismissal.
“I have worked at the municipality for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen such disrespect and cynicism from political figures and clerks toward the capital, the city they all mention with such fervor. This is very depressing,” concluded one of the high-ranking officials at Safra Square at the end of the press conference