Overhead woes

The municipality isn't collecting all its revenue, but it is also overspending in other areas.

jerusalem bridge 88 (photo credit: )
jerusalem bridge 88
(photo credit: )
The recently released city comptroller's annual report comprises more than 1,200 pages in two volumes. The findings range from the political fallout from the decision to rebuild the Mughrabi bridge above the women's section at the Western Wall, to the alarming way the municipality has handled the issue of the installation of gas tanks throughout the city, some of them in a very dangerous condition. Year-round, attorney Shlomit Rubin and her staff compile the wrongdoings, shortcomings and problematic handling of the different municipal departments, partly according to her own research and partly from information she receives from residents. One of the most serious findings concerns the way the gas companies install their tanks, which is often done without the required permits, thus endangering residents. As for the Mughrabi bridge, according to Rubin's investigations, its rebuilding "did not take into consideration the highly sensitive location and situation" and was not conducted in accordance with municipal guidelines. Rubin also found that the municipality is neglecting some of its own assets: Dwellings owned by Kikar Safra are wrongly exempted from arnona (property tax), which for 2005, amounted to NIS 40 million. The municipality gives different organizations the right to use these dwellings, but neglects to charge arnona. But the highlight of this year's report is the Calatrava Bridge at the entrance to the city. The bridge, which was approved by former city engineer Uri Sheetrit, is a part of the light rail project. "Had we known before the ultimate cost of the bridge, there is a doubt if we would have approved this project," writes Rubin in her report. Rubin even adds that she is not convinced that there was a real need to commission the design from the famous architect Santiago Calatrava himself. According to her findings, the cost of the bridge has reached an extravagant NIS 250m. "Within less than five years," notes Rubin, "the cost of the bridge has increased from NIS 71.4m in 2001 (when the project was approved) to NIS 246.2m at the end of 2006." Another worrisome finding on the matter: At least NIS 26m of the bridge's cost (nobody knows if this is the final cost) are not part of the project's approved budget, meaning that the Transportation and Finance ministries, along with City Pass, which is charged with overseeing the light rail project and its accompanying bridge, did not authorize these additional sums. Rubin also reports that Calatrava's wages have mysteriously risen as much as 38% from an original NIS 7.5m to NIS 10.3m. As for the decision to secure Calatrava's services for the bridge design, Rubin writes that a conflict of interests may have been involved, which should have been resolved before signing a contract with him. Also in the report, Rubin points out that the light rail is way off schedule, while the bridge is actually on schedule. What this means is that the municipality will be financing at least two years of maintenance of the bridge (a matter of some NIS 500,000 a year, at least) for nothing. According to the arrangement, the bridge's maintenance is to be financed by Kikar Safra for eight years, but as the light rail is slated for completion only in 2010, this translates into two wasted years (and at least NIS 1m) of bridge maintenance. In response, Moriah, the municipal company that is building the bridge, said: "This is a unique project and the budget hasn't risen three times, but merely from NIS 220m to NIS 246m, a realistic additional sum, and we are on time."