In a departure from tradition, this week "Corridors" is allowing itself to put aside its usual critical tone and take on a serious attitude, pledging that this won't happen more than absolutely necessary. And what could be more appropriate for this uncharacteristic approach than the presentation of the annual municipal budget - the some 1,500-page book that will determine what life in this city will look like in the coming year. So let's take a closer look at the impending changes - for better or for worse - awaiting the residents of Jerusalem.
There are several very good tidings in this new budget. After doubling the culture budget from NIS 10 million to NIS 20m. upon entering office last December, Mayor Nir Barkat promised more and came through: The culture budget for 2010 will be NIS 40m. Over NIS 2m. of this sum will go exclusively for summer events - which promises yet another dazzling summer of cultural events. Youth and students will benefit from a special discount on any subscription they choose from the various cultural institutions in the city.
There is good news for sports fans as well. The budget for the sports organizations and events has leaped from NIS 2m. to NIS 4m. And still on the subject of the younger generation: NIS 500,000 is devoted to promoting a City Youth Authority, which will be in charge of youth-related problems, concerns and projects, including affordable housing for students and recently discharged soldiers.
The dirt and grime in the city have been, since legendary mayor Teddy Kollek lost the elections to Ehud Olmert in 1993, one of the major causes for complaint in the capital. To this end, NIS 700,000 has been allocated for cleaning up the city center. During the coming year, two neighborhoods will be designated for a pilot project in recycling. And in addition to all that, a reorganization of the different departments will ensure, according to the mayor's staff, a significant improvement in the look and embellishment of the city. All that thanks to a special additional budget of NIS 34m. for this purpose.
Besides augmenting the culture budget and focusing on cleaning and recycling issues, this budget is placing special emphasis on tourism. After all, Barkat did announce right from the beginning that in his vision, no fewer than 10 million tourists would visit Jerusalem before the end of his term. Thus the tourism budget of the city will grow by 266 percent (from NIS 3m. to 8m.). And Barkat has succeeded in obtaining an additional budget of NIS 10m. from the Tourism Ministry, raising the total sum to NIS 18 million, as well as another NIS 5m. for developing tourism projects.
Another noteworthy inclusion is an allocation for
community council elections. Remember, the same councils that caused such friction between the mayor and the chairmen - a conflict that is still not resolved. But in the meantime, the budget for the launching of the elections this mayor wanted to promote has already been approved: NIS 900,000, together with a decision to allow internal flexibility in the community councils in order to adapt their budgets to the specific needs in their constituencies.
City planning will see the promotion of five new metropolitan parks (NIS 11.8m.), NIS 500,000 for the planning of the Messila Park (along the old railway) and the Ir Ganim Park (NIS 5m.).
The bottom line is NIS 3.593 billion, which means an addition of NIS 240 million compared to the 2009 budget, which was, in fact, a budget planned by Barkat's predecessor, Uri Lupolianski. This budget is the first step of the new mayor, and it bears his fingerprints: more for youth, more for tourism, more for development. It still remains to be seen if the additional allocations and the profound changes in the organization of the municipality's departments will indeed bring a real substantial improvement in the physical aspect of the city. Less dirt would be a good start. "Corridors" will follow up and report.