Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Thursday that all of the capital’s residents will “feel the benefits” of the municipality’s increased annual budget of nearly NIS 7 billion, but provided few details as to how exactly the money will be allocated.
During an afternoon press conference at city hall, Barkat said the total 2015 budget for the city is NIS 6.7b., an increase of 13 percent from last year, which he said will be spent “honestly and fairly” among all the capital’s neighborhoods.
Emphasizing that the budget would be spent equally within the seven boroughs, he said a more specific announcement as to how the money, which also will be invested in the city’s fiveyear master plan, will be spent.
While Barkat noted that hundreds of millions of shekels have been set aside for investment in a foundering east Jerusalem, he spoke in broad strokes and did not quantify specific spending allocations.
“We’ve increased the budget for education in a dramatic way, [as well as] culture, cleanliness, business development,” he said, adding that the municipality worked in coordination with internationally recognized city planners from the United States to ensure efficiency.
“In the next few weeks, we’ll be able to demonstrate and show how those investments will be spread across the different neighborhoods… so when people ask how the capital will be distributed, we will demonstrate it and show it in a way that people can see,” he said.
Through marketing and special events, Barkat said residents “will see a focus on culture and tourism, which is an area we want to develop because, Jerusalem naturally has a competitive advantage.”
“We have more than four billion people around the world who would like to come to Jerusalem,” he continued, “and we would like to see growth in those numbers.”
Barkat said another area in which the budget will invest significantly is “health-life sciences and hi-tech,” which he claimed were responsible for significant business growth in the capital and encouraging younger residents to stay.
“We also want to keep young, creative, talented people in the city of Jerusalem,” he said. “The idea is to keep people who are creative in arts and science. They feed these two economic drivers: hi-tech on one side and, on the other side, culture and tourism.”
Noting that the chronic violence that engulfed east Jerusalem for several months last year has largely abated, Barkat said investments in Arab schools, coupled by keeping delinquents off the streets, is an important feature of the budget.
By extending the school day until 6 p.m. and improving educational facilities, Barkat said he will provide “hope” to Jerusalem’s disaffected Arab youth who have been responsible for the vast majority of the city’s crime.
“You will be able to see growth and investments in the schools in an honest and even way, as much as we can,” he said.
Asked how he would specifically allocate the budget to improve east Jerusalem’s foundering infrastructure, Barkat responded that his “professional team has to divide the money honestly and fairly between the seven boroughs and the community councils in them.”
Pressed as to how he would help the neglected eastern portion of the city, Barkat cited road improvements and additional classrooms.
“We lack 2,000 classrooms in Jerusalem – 1,000 in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and 1,000 in the Arab neighborhoods,” he said. “You will see that at this rate we are creating more than 100 classrooms a year, which was not done in the past and, hopefully, we will more than double that number in the next few years.”
Barkat added that more than NIS 300 million of outside capital has been allocated specifically for east Jerusalem. Of that, he said NIS 100m. will go toward security, while NIS 200m. will be allocated to “infrastructure and catch-up in education and job creation.” An additional NIS 350m. is earmarked for “boosting culture and tourism” there, he said.
Conceding that extra fiscal aid from the national government is necessary to revitalize east Jerusalem, Barkat praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for allocating an additional NIS 770m. to the municipality’s coffers.
“A majority of that money we’ve solicited, convinced the national government that we need to invest [in east Jerusalem],” he said.
Ultimately, increased municipal spending will be felt throughout the capital, Barkat claimed.
“All residents of the city of Jerusalem will feel the growth of the budget,” he said. “So I’m very optimistic and I believe Jerusalem has a bright future ahead of it.”