The recent discussion that took place pertaining to the fees to be charged for the use of the Anna Regina Car Park was very interesting, and deserved the space and time in the printed and electronic media it was given.
First, I must say that the Town Council is deserving of praise and commendation for a car park which is well constructed and is serving the people well, but in the same breath I will say any new fees or increase in fees for services provided by any agency, ministry, association or company, particularly in Region Two will be ill advised.
During my seven consecutive years as Regional Democratic Councillor from the Alliance for Change (AFC) list, I also served as a member of the Local Government Committee, the Agriculture and Works Committee and the Land Selection Committee, and the issue of the appraisal and reappraisal of buildings and properties was discussed extensively. The subject of non-payment for cultivated areas did not escape our attention; it was always kept as an agenda item at all meetings.
We have to acknowledge that the municipality and RDC have the responsibility of building and maintaining structures, streets, playgrounds, car parks, not forgetting cemeteries and the collection of garbage, and they have to ensure that a healthy environment is created. In order to do so they must have a solid revenue base. And while I subscribe to the view that anything that is worth having is worth paying for, I strongly believe that there are times when subsidies must be considered, and my comments are not only directed to the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and the municipality in Region Two but across the country.
There are many areas which the NDCs in Region Two and the Anna Regina Town Council could target to significantly increase the revenue base in order to provide the required services the people deserve, those very people who have elected them.
Many people would be surprised, especially those who are not rice farmers, that the NDCs and Town Council have allowed more than $150M to be owed, from which they would have retained seventeen per cent, when they were the collecting agency for the Drainage and Irrigation Board.
My understanding is that the Anna Regina Town Council is owed more than $100M by rice farmers for cultivated areas.
It is also beyond the comprehension of any reasonable person as to why, for more than fifteen years, no appraisal of more than a thousand new and renovated buildings, including banks, supermarkets and other business places was done; the NDC and the Town Council would have collected millions more.
The non-payment of money from cultivated areas and rates and taxes are only two areas which the local government bodies should be pursuing aggressively, and not the drivers using the car park, be it at Anna Regina, Charity or elsewhere, when they all should know that any fee addition would be passed on to the commuters.
The Region Two economy is agriculture driven, mainly by the rice industry on which more than eighty per cent of the residents depend. That industry is currently taking a battering ‒ don’t ask me why or who the person or persons responsible for this sad state of affairs is ‒ and while we are seeing the bright light at the end of the tunnel, it is some distance away. The timing of the car park proposal is misguided, and if implemented must be vigorously rejected by the people, not only the hire car and minibus owners and drivers.
On the RDC, the highest decision-making body of the Region, there were previously twelve councillors for the ruling party, the PPP, and five from the then opposition benches. The five PPP councillors, with the exception of one from the then ruling party would vote against any motion for strong action to be taken against delinquent ratepayers, and to have a reappraisal and appraisal done in Region Two. I know that this was on account of political considerations, because the majority of people who would have been made to face the consequences of their non-payment were supporters of the PPP.
I was born and grew up in a rice area, and I am still living there. My father was a rice farmer, so I have an appreciation for the hard work the farmers are doing and the risks they are taking, but farmers must pay their dues like any other citizen. I am convinced that some of the rice farmers who have been delinquent for years, did not pay even when the industry was doing well, but by their lifestyle indicated they could have afforded to pay.
So now it is not for any NDC and the Town Council to implement a new fee for the car park or any other facility, knowing that commuters, consumers and spectators or patrons will bear the brunt of these fees that they can ill afford at this time. The members of the municipality will fit the description of being uncaring; it’s an idea that should never have been conceived of, let alone discussed and implemented.
Archie W Cordis