Money, money, money

The 2007 budget: More income from parking fines and cellular antennas, and increased spending on municipal salaries.

money 88 (photo credit: )
money 88
(photo credit: )
On Thursday evening, the city council meeting approved the municipal budget for 2007. With a supplement of NIS 140 million, the new budget stands at NIS 3.028 billion, to meet the various needs of some 720,000 citizens. The almost 600 pages of the budget report describe in numbers and figures the shape of the city's life for the coming year. To enhance the city's income, there will be more parking fines, more billboard advertising and even more cellular antennas on the roofs. Here are a few examples of the meaning behind the figures: Salaries are still heavy on the budget, despite the city's rehabilitation plan: 600 employees have left Kikar Safra during the past two years, but the overall budget allocated for those still there will be NIS 512.5m., some 10 percent more than in 2006. One of the reasons given was the countrywide increase in the minimum wage. In response, municipal director-general Eitan Meir said, "it could have been worse." Income from arnona (property tax), licensing fees and government funds are expected to be NIS 1.96 billion. The problem is that according to city director-general Eitan Meir himself, the final amount of governmental funding is not known. The negotiations are still taking place, and at least according to last year's experience, even the final results may be changed: The special 2006 budget for the capital that was previously allocated had been unilaterally cut by the Finance Ministry. For the moment, the funding expected for the 2007 budget is as follows: A special grant for the capital: NIS 150m., and a special balancing grant of NIS 48.5m. Again, even Meir admits in his foreword to the budget that up to now, there is no assurance that these sums will indeed reach Kikar Safra. The education department will benefit from NIS 479.475m., an increase of merely NIS 25m. compared to last year. One of the results, according to social activists in the city, will be that the chances to see the municipality will be financing transportation for the kids of Jerusalem's children are slimmer than ever. The situation in the haredi education department of education is no better: A mere increase of NIS 13m. will reach them this year and according to haredi city council members, many haredi children will continue to study in unacceptable conditions such as warehouses and rented apartments. The culture department, which is barely functions since the creation of the auxiliary promotion company Ariel and the planned National Authority for Culture and Tourism, will get NIS 78.43m. (mostly for salaries of the department employees), but it's still NIS 3m. more than this year. Notably, the department of immigrant absorption, the department that takes care of the new arrivals the city is so willing to bring here, will receive a budget cut: NIS 4.227m. instead of the NIS 4.351m. Meir and the chief accountant (gizbar) of the municipality's chief accountant describe the goals and plans for next year: The first is the beautification of the city's public gardens. This program began this year, and it is part of a larger plan to involve residents in their surroundings. Every garden or playground is carefully planned and conceived in consultation with non-profit groups and nothing is done without their approval. This has already yielded a few some positive results, like for such as the two public gardens in Kiryat Menahem, which have been transformed from trash-filled and drug-infested areas to clean and inviting playgrounds for kids and parents. Also on the agenda: Planting trees along the main roads in the city, improving the condition of the streets, more cleaning and a large increase in vandalism-resistant public garbage bins. The last item is a direct result of the improvement in the security situation in the city. The public bins that disappeared for years after they became a real threat because of terrorism are coming back, and lots of elegant bins will be displayed in the city center (Ben-Yehuda and surroundings) and later on in all the neighborhoods in other areas. "We didn't have much to discuss on this budget," admits city council member and finance commission member Pepe Allalu. "It's just numbers, with nothing behind them, except for more and more privatization. Regarding the eastern part of the city, the only thing I can say is that the discrimination is continuing and even getting worse, especially in the welfare budgets." A quick glance at the welfare budget shows that only about NIS 6m. has been added for this year: NIS 273.697m. instead of NIS 267,8m., for a city where, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics and the National Insurance Institute, one in two children lives under the poverty line. "This is not the appropriate answer to the city's needs, nor the budget the citizens of Jerusalem deserve," opposition leader Nir Barkat told In Jerusalem. "This is a budget that gives no hope of a better future."