Local officials: We won't collect drought levy

The head of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel (ULAI) announced over the weekend that he would order local authorities in the coming days not to collect the drought levy that went into effect last week. ULAI leader Shlomo Buhbut, the mayor of Ma'alot-Tarshiha, had already ordered the collection services of the local authorities and the water corporations to split the water bill in two: the regular bill and the drought levy. The drought levy part of the bill would be stamped with the name and logo of the Finance Ministry in red and sent with a short explanation of the problems with the levy. The regular water bill would be sent as usual. "If the Treasury wants to collect the levy, then they can hire private collection services to do it. Just as the court ordered soldiers not to obey an illegal order, so, too, we cannot obey an illegal law!" Buhbut said in a statement. He charged that the levy was intended to fill the state's coffers, rather than reduce water use by the public. He decried the imposition of a "tax" to correct years of neglect and mismanagement of the water economy at the hands of successive governments. Indeed, political will to build desalination plants has lagged during years of abundant rainfall, putting the whole desalination enterprise nearly a decade behind schedule. Two mayors have already taken action: Yokneam Mayor Simon Alfasi has already separated his bills, while Sderot Mayor David Buskila has called on the Treasury to collect the levy for itself. The Water Authority contends that the levy is designed to encourage the public to conserve water during this fifth consecutive year of little rainfall. There was no word by press time from the authority or the National Infrastructures Ministry on how they would respond to the local authorities' lack of cooperation.