City has earned $320M in container fees since August, 2016

-some shippers not paying up

City Hall has earned $320m in container fees between August of 2016 and March of this year but there is a view that this figure should have been higher.

According to Town Clerk Royston King, a June 13th meeting of the Tripartite Committee on the Container Fee has resulted in an agreement that the current charge of $5,000 be sustained to provide an opportunity for “all involved to look at the challenges facing the city in a more holistic manner and to explore other options for revenue generation for Georgetown.”

The meeting, chaired by Private Sector Commission (PSC) Chairman Eddie Boyer, was attended by representatives of the PSC, the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown, Ministry of Communities and the Ministry of Business, including Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin.

Speaking at a press conference in at City Hall yesterday, King stressed that the current fee is paid based on a “gentleman’s agreement” with the PSC.

“We need to put legislation in place to make it legally binding but we can only do that when we have settled on the figure,” he explained, before adding that council is requesting an $8,000 fee for each 20-foot container and a $10,000 fee for each 40-foot container.

Boyer, however, told Stabroek News that at this time it would be difficult for the business community to pay an increase in the container fee. He noted that there has been a decline in the import of containers over the last three years, which though not significant could worsen with an increase of the fee. Asked to explain the reason for the decline, Boyer said that the “market is level; demand is flat.”

He further stressed that the PSC is convinced that City Hall should have received much more in revenue from the container fee than it has indicated.

The city has reported earning $320 million in revenue from the fee between August 2016 and March, 2018.

“The consignee pays this money to the shipping company who remits it to the city and we believe much more than $320 million should have been remitted,” Boyer said.

King also said that at the meeting it was noticed that one particular shipper was remitting significantly less than the others.

“It was discovered that some shippers are not paying their fair share; some shippers were collecting the money but they were not remitting it to council. When you compare what one shipper, in particular, is giving to council, you will see a great disparity in what this particular shipper is paying and what the others are paying,” he said.

King would not identify the shipper who may be underpaying the council but noted that the PSC has agreed to look into matter and to examine with the council a more efficient manner by which these monies may be paid to council.

The next meeting is scheduled for July 11th to review the process and possibly begin drafting the by-laws which would govern this particular fee.

Additionally, the city will be examining whether it is feasible to collect fees from other road users, such as single-axle, heavy-duty trucks, which also use city roads to transport goods.

The container fee, according to King, is one aspect of a wider strategy to give persons involved in transporting goods through the city an opportunity to contribute to what is done to maintain the city.

Boyer has indicated that the business community is willing to work with council on this strategy.

The container fee, a controversial measure when first implemented, was set at $5,000 per container on an interim basis in August, 2016, after staunch opposition from the business community to the initial sum of $25,000.

It went on to earn the city $57 million in 2016 and $183 million in the first nine months of 2017 though it had actually been projected to earn $360 million. Further, for the first four months of 2018, the fee has contributed $37 million to the $845 million in total revenue earned by the M&CC.  There are, however, no by-laws to govern this fee and the tripartite committee set up to negotiate the by-laws had not met since 2016.

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