Sderot mayor stages one-man Jerusalem protest over funding cuts to city

Gov't disputes mayor's claim that it has cut NIS 25 million for residents’ basic needs since 2009.

Sderot Mayor David Bouskila370 (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Sderot Mayor David Bouskila370
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Sderot Mayor David Bouskila said Sunday he is staging an indefinite one-man protest, which began Wednesday, against the Interior Ministry and Treasury for cutting some NIS 25 million from his city’s annual budget each year for the past four years.
Sitting in a makeshift canvas tent across the street from the Prime Minister’s Office in downtown Jerusalem, Bouskila said that since the government cut a significant portion of the annual NIS 170m. budget, there has been a dire shortfall of basic services for Sderot’s 20,000 residents.
Bouskila claimed the budget was slashed for the western Negev city in 2009 shortly following Operation Cast Lead because “no more rockets were landing on us.” While he conceded that the government made a concerted effort to assist his municipality by providing a financial adviser from the Treasury to balance the troubled budget, all subsequent efforts have failed.
“Even the financial adviser said it can’t be done – that we need the money back,” Bouskila said.
Four days before Rosh Hashana, he said an emergency meeting was held among the Interior Ministry, Treasury, municipality and the government financial adviser to solve the problem. However, instead of agreeing to reinstate funding, Bouskila claimed the government asked the community to cut down on its “special needs.”
“They said cultural activities, sports, sanitation and lights on the streets represented ‘special needs,’” the mayor said.
“Everything that gives us the ability to live like human beings.”
As a result, Bouskila set up his protest encampment on Wednesday afternoon, where he remained during Rosh Hashana, and said he will stay there until the budgetary dispute is fairly resolved.
“We want money for youth activities, sanitation in the town and lights on the roads – these are not ‘special needs,’ they’re basic needs,” he said. “We don’t feel like we should have to live differently than any other community in Israel.”
In response to the mayor’s protest, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach issued a statement Sunday denying funding had been cut from Sderot’s annual budget.
“Claims of the state’s budget cut to the municipality are not true – the opposite is true: every year tens of millions of shekels were delivered to its municipality,” the statement read.
“In addition to that,” the statement continued, “last year, an extra NIS 10m. was provided as a bonus, and this year – in addition to NIS 44m. – the government provided an additional NIS 15m. as a loan.”
The Interior Ministry accused the Sderot municipality of defaulting on its unspecified signed terms for a recovery plan initiated by the government – and of ballooning its budget deficit to NIS 110m.
“To strengthen the city of Sderot in terms of its budget the government formulated a recovery plan,” the statement read. “The Sderot Municipality did not meet the plan and the city’s deficit continues to grow, standing now at about NIS 110m.”
Bouskila flatly denied that he or the municipality were to blame for the city’s financial woes, insisting that all expenditures were overseen by the government- assigned financial adviser.
“It’s not serious to say we somehow mismanaged the funds because [for over two years] the financial adviser decided if and how the budget will be spent, and he works for the Treasury and Interior Ministry,” he said.
“So how can I mishandle the budget if I don’t have the authority to spend anything?” Bouskila also denied that extra funding has been provided to the city and said the Interior Ministry is accusing him and his municipality of mismanagement to “cast blame” instead of accepting responsibility for the financial shortfall.
Still, the ministry said that to ensure services continue to be provided to Sderot’s residents, and payments are made to municipal workers, it and the Treasury have prepared another emergency plan for budgetary aid.
Bouskila said he was unaware of such a measure and will not leave the site until a formal agreement is made.
“I will stay until they solve the problem,” he said. “I hope they do it today or tomorrow.”