Jerusalem strike fills streets with garbage

Municipal standoff with Finance Ministry to expand to schools today with two-hour delay.

January 30, 2017 00:02
2 minute read.
Garbage in Jerusalem

Garbage in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A strike began Sunday morning in Jerusalem over the city’s basic municipal services, including garbage collection, street cleaning and municipal offices. It is expected to expand to city-run schools beginning on Monday for two hours and include after-school programs.

There will also be protests around the city.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued an ultimatum to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon last Thursday over funding for the city’s needs. Barkat is demanding the treasury give special grants to Jerusalem.

Beginning Sunday, garbage was not collected, there was no public reception at city hall departments and no answers to calls to the 106 call center. Psychological services for children were halted as well as those involving street cleaners, city clerks and tax administrators.

Additionally, social services and the construction and business permits sections were closed. As long as there is no solution to this situation, the city has no approved budget for 2017, and hence, according to the law, it is forbidden to introduce any change to City Hall’s functions of last year. That means new employees cannot be hired, tenders are frozen, projects are stopped, and new projects cannot be not submitted.

Financially, without an approved budget, the city is working on the basis of 1/12 – meaning on the basis of last year’s budget, and even such an arrangement is allowed only until the end of March 2017. If after that, here is still no solution and no approved budget, the City Council will likely be dismissed and elections will be held.

This situation is the result of an ongoing struggle between Barkat and Kahlon (Kulanu).

The finance minister has the exclusive power in this government to decide on financial issues, including on the approval of city council budgets.

All sides agree that Jerusalem, being the largest but also the poorest city in the country, needs a special budget, adjusted for residents’ incomes (such as municipal taxes).

For the second consecutive year, Barkat and Kahlon have failed to reach an agreement regarding the sum of the special grant and now regarding the payment arrangements.

Barkat has demanded the city receive the entire sum directly from the Treasury, and not from the respective ministries involved – such as the Welfare and Education ministries. But now even the general sum of the grants – the Capital Grant and the Municipality balance Grant – has been the subject of disagreement.

Barkat, speaking at a protest outside the Finance Ministry’s offices on Sunday morning – surrounded by almost all of his coalition members and hundreds of city employees – declared that “there will be no limitations to the strike and that he would never let Jerusalem and its residents down.”

In response, a spokesman from the Treasury told The Jerusalem Post that the government provides “billions of shekels to the city of Jerusalem,” and cited a new development project for the city that will cost NIS 2.5 billion. He added that NIS 500 million was allocated during 2016 to increase the capacity of municipal departments.

According to the spokesperson, the Treasury has already approved NIS 329m. for the 2017-18 fiscal year, and an NIS 200m. has been allocated to other ministries.

As a result, the spokesman said, “the strike seems peculiar.”

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