Citizens have been calling the Office of the Town Clerk for an explanation on the current state of affairs the council in relation to the provision of services to communities. These services include inter alia drainage; street lights; maintenance of cemeteries; maintenance of municipal markets; maintenance of sluices; pumps and allied drainage equipment; maternal and child welfare services; day care centres; environmental and public health facilities; construction, repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, footpaths and reserves; maintenance of green spaces and recreational grounds and facilities for children, youths and seniors; enforcement of the city’s building code and by-laws; maintenance of pavements, parks and gardens; meat and food hygiene; the maintenance of an abattoir; and the regulation of vehicular traffic on city roads.
However, it is no secret that, the council is woefully short of money to deliver these key services at an optimum level.
In 1994, the then People Progressive Party/Civic government appointed an Interim Management Com-mittee (IMC), under the chairmanship of Dr James Rose. After careful study of the council’s financial system, the Interim Management Committee properly concluded that the council’s revenue base was extremely narrow and that its coffers were unimaginably shallow to manage and deliver the plethora of services and facilities it was called to do under the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01.
This conclusion led to the IMC’s call for new revenue measures to change the negative financial position of the council. It was that committee that suggested a number of new areas to generate revenue for the council including container fees, cold storage fees and increases in rentals at the municipal markets. I recall that the proposed increase in the rental of stalls was challenged by the then subject minister. However, the chairman of the IMC felt so strongly about the need for those increases that he threatened to resign. Indeed, he stepped down from that position until the issue was resolved; the Vice-Chairman, Mr Fitzgerald Agard performed the duties of Chairman during that period.
This notwithstanding, those measures were not implemented under the IMC. Therefore, the situation remains unchanged. Since that time and even before 1994 successive councils have tried in different ways to improve the financial situation of the Mayor and City Council, sadly to no avail. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have not had valuation of properties for over twenty years. This means that property owners are paying rates on the rental value of their properties assessed twenty years ago, a most unfortunate situation. An examination of our records shows that some property owners are paying less than thirty dollars per day to the council in property rates; less than the cost of a fizzy drink of a bottle of coca-cola. This is a serious point because the council depends heavily on property rates to provide services to the city. The council’s main account is its General Rates Account. All other accounts are subsidiary to that account. This in itself demonstrates the importance of property rates to the municipality. Still in these circumstances, about 35% of property-owners, including big businesses continue to neglect to pay their rates to the city. Also, many have been undervaluing their properties.
Yet the council over the years has been providing necessary services to all communities at higher cost. In that sense, the council has been subsidising businesses and property owners operating in the city because they are receiving services for which they are not paying the true cost. While there has been no valuation of properties for two decades, the cost of goods and commodities used by the council to provide services have, over the years, increased several percent. These include fuel, electricity, cement, sand, stone, wood, steel, machinery, equipment, tools, training, technologies and labour. In reality, the council is now required to do more with a rapidly shrinking treasury, in circumstances of changing demographics and other social, cultural and economic challenges.
Today, under new and dynamic national, regional and local leadership, the council is providing better services, including a more efficient solid waste management system, an improved drainage system (even after heavy downpours of rain there is no evidence of overtopping as was the case some years ago), and generally a cleaner, healthier, more organized city.
Even our critics grudgingly admit that the city is cleaner and better organized. But the council could not continue in this vein without making a serious error of judgement in the way it is managing the affairs of the nation’s capital.
As a result, we must now approach the management and governance of the city in a way that would allow all stakeholders ‒ corporations, companies, manufacturers and all property-owners ‒ to make their fair contribution to the sustainable development to Georgetown. Those who use more of the city’s resources must pay more; this is fair and just. This principle has influenced the council to take action in certain areas with specific groups of stakeholders. For example, we have had discussions with our friends in the private sector on the question of solid waste management and sought to enlist their cooperation to pay a small fee for the collection of industrial and commercial waste. This we hope to implement in early September 2017. It is important to note that waste management accounts for a substantial portion of the council’s expenditure. This service costs the council nearly fifty million dollars per month. It is true, that with new and changing consumption patterns, high consumerism, global warming and climate change, and its attendant and unprecedented environmental, public health and economic consequences, this cost is likely to increase significantly over the coming years.
It is also true that, the city must now contemplate an integrated solid waste management system with the requisite infrastructure and allied things to protect public, community and environmental health.
It is clear that the council could no longer work with the normal property rates to cover expenditure on things which include the collection and disposal of waste; there must now be separate arrangements, particularly for those businesses that generate an enormous amount of waste in the production and sale of various products.
Arguments for special environmental audits of corporations could be successfully made at this point, by the city’s Environment and Sustainable Committee to secure the health of the environment and its resources for the sustainable development of Georgetown.
Again, the council must move swiftly with its partners to settle the final figure for container fees. Some considerable time ago, the council met with shippers and the owners of wharves within the city and agreed on an interim five thousand dollar fee per container and the promise of subsequent meetings to approve the final figure, for containers packed with goods hauled across the city.
However, many months have passed and there has been no meeting, no word to settle this issue. Regrettably, this is denying shippers the opportunity to make their fair contribution to the sustainability of the city and simultaneously preventing the council from accessing much needed revenue to properly provide services to local neighbourhoods. This matter needs to be settled as a matter of urgency to allow council the financial capacity to do its work. In this regard, the council has dispatched a letter to the Shipping Association requesting an urgent meeting to finalize an agreement and to go forward on this issue.
Also, the council is paying attention to hotels, guest houses, common lodging houses, restaurants and food manufacturers with a view to organizing this sector to improve and upgrade all such businesses and to garner revenue to police and enforce the by-laws and the regulations related to these businesses. We have started to develop key indicators that would allow those businesses to be graded and inspected according to size, location, public health and environmental health compliance and quality of service.
While the Municipal District and Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 has all the necessary provisions and standards under which the council can go forward to implement new revenue projects to improve its treasury, this requires rethinking the way we organize, manage and execute our responsibilities to citizens. The council has to review its approach to its specific and general operations using a business model which would allow it to generate income as a corporation to improve its service delivery.
The Georgetown municipality has to begin, at the very least, to recover operational costs and not just apply nominal fees for municipal services. Unless, this is done it will forever be lost in the maze of financial woes and other difficulties, and its effort to restore, renew and modernize the city will be blunted.
Above all, there needs to be revaluation of all properties in Georgetown. It is very difficult to see the economic prosperity of the city without going forward with this legal and statutory process. Perhaps, the council should consider introducing differential general rates in the city.
All in all, there is hope. We anticipate that with the support and cooperation of the private sector, the Chamber of Commerce, community groups, religious and other organizations and the active participation of all of our citizens. Georgetown will be lifted to a new plateau of pride and glory.
City of Georgetown