Corridors of Power: Hot property tax

Arnona was allotted the most time and attention, despite the fact that this year no increase is planned.

for rent in jlem  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
for rent in jlem
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Once, not so long ago, Uri Lupolianski had as much time as he needed. In those days, all he had to worry about was opening a new annex of Yad Sarah, the charitable organization that won him the Israel Prize. But those days are over. The mayor has other duties now and perhaps this is why, last Thursday, he was 50 minutes late to the monthly city council meeting, which he opened to sarcastic remarks from the opposition benches. City councillor Rali Ben-David, who tried to complain about the mayor's tardiness, had her microphone promptly shut off - though it was not clear whether this was deliberate. There were a few items on the agenda - arnona (property tax), the Russian library, the municipal auxiliary Ariel and more. But somehow, the arnona item was allotted the most time and attention, despite the fact that this year no increase is planned. The law is a little bit complicated, but the simplified version goes like this: If a local council's budget is balanced, it has the right to vote on whether or not to increase arnona. As Jerusalem's budget has been balanced since last year, the municipality has the right to decide not to raise arnona this year. In fact, according to city council member Pepe Alalo (Meretz), the expectation of opposition members was that the administration would announce a cut in arnona. "If we did so," explained an official at City Hall, "the press would have accused us of bribing the citizens in an election year." But there is more. At the last Finance Committee meeting, coalition members refused to vote on a decision stating that the municipality would not raise its rates for 2008, regardless of what was decided by the government. In the end, the committee decided there would be no decision on an increase for the moment, and the decision would be made once the government announced its own. A little lost? So are Alalo and his partners in the opposition. Also at the city council meeting, the Meretz trio asked for a vote on a statement that the municipality would commit to treat cultural issues respectfully, nominate a permanent head of the Culture Department (after more than three years without) and finally approve and implement the creation of the independent culture and tourism authority announced by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004. Guess what? The proposal didn't pass. Nor did the one asking for more transparency in the auxiliary Ariel, the society that has become, according to city council member Ruth Ralbag (who split from Nir Barkat's list) a kind of routine circuitous route for employment and projects not presented to the city council members. Even Shinui member Boaz Atzmon's proposal didn't pass. Atzmon thought he had the winning card by proposing that the municipality use worms to help recycle organic waste in the city. But that doesn't mean the meeting was no fun; Barkat, who invited about 30 Russian olim to the meeting, requested that Lupolianski do his utmost to save the city's only Russian-language library from closure, which, according to olim organizations, is the largest outside Russia. The library's old building in Romema has been sold and is slated for demolition, and until now the municipality hasn't offered a solution - besides closing it down. In his speech, Barkat mentioned that when the issue was debated in one of the Knesset's committees, the municipality didn't bother to send a representative, thus causing the committee to criticize the municipality and its head. Upon ending his remarks, Barkat was applauded by the Russian olim. But for unclear reasons, some of them also applauded after one of the members who opposed Barkat spoke. As a result, officials at Kikar Safra pretended that the Russian olim appreciated Lupolianski's position and did not necessarily support Barkat. "I am not sure all of them really understood everything that was said by both Barkat and Lupolianski," an official said by way of explanation, "and perhaps they were just being polite, something we are not used to here." The next city council meeting will focus on the 2008 budget and is scheduled for the last week of December.