‘Disastrous’ Cuts Could Lead To Shutdown
The chief councillor for the Hope Town District Council has told residents the Abaco Islands are facing a “a budgetary crisis of immense proportions”, with funding to the local government slashed to such a degree that it can no longer afford to provide basic services to the communities they serve.
In an impassioned speech to Abaco residents yesterday, Jeremy Sweeting called on the affected community to take a stand against the $300,000 or 27 percent budget cut which will “cripple this district and force a shutdown of services”.
Pointing out that the Hope Town district handed over $5.4 million in revenue to the central government last year, Sweeting called the move to cut the local government’s budget deeply “shameful”. The reduction in funding was made known to the council on Monday.
The Hope Town District Council will be given $254,656.16 annually to run the affairs of Hope Town, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay and surrounding cays, including Tilloo Cay, Lubber’s Quarters, Scotland Cay and Baker’s Bay.
The chief councillor said he could not understand this, especially in light of the fact that the Green Turtle Cay District Council alone had been given $280,000 to operate.
The Hope Town District Council was initially informed a 15 percent cut might take place, which would have been “acceptable”, according to Sweeting. However, he alleged that the final figure was not discussed with the councillors.
He added that even during the worst of the economic downturn, the council’s budget was not slashed so heavily.
“The former government maintained our budget. I understand some cuts may be necessary, but not to this extreme.
“It is clear to me that the Ministry of Finance and Ministry for Local Government did not take the due diligence and time necessary to adequately study what was needed in our towns and settlements.”
Sweeting pledged to fight the cuts. “This is about our islands, our communities, they must come first. I don’t care who is the government, I will take a stand for our communities. This comes before any political allegiance for me and the government right now is dead wrong, if they think we can govern our towns with these peanuts when we send them millions every year!”
Outlining the severity of the situation, Sweeting said that unless the central government takes over direct responsibility for covering the cost of barging waste from the islands, the Hope Town District Council would see its entire budget consumed by covering this cost alone.
“That is the only check we would be able to write. We wouldn’t be able to pay to have your garbage collected,” he said. If the central government did assume the cost of barging waste from the islands, as it has proposed it might, said Sweeting, this would still leave a major shortfall.
“With all the other contracts,with the collection of garbage in Hope Town, Man-O-War Cay and Guana Cay, with the cleaning of the streets in Hope Town and Man-O-War, with the cleaning of the school grounds in the district, with the cleaning of the complex here and in Guana Cay, the post office in Man-O- War,the clinic in Man-O-War, the cleaning of bathrooms in the district, the secretary’s salary and basic utilities, we would still fall $2,000 short every month,” he calculated, adding that the figure does not take into consideration fuel costs that are necessary for the council to travel on the ferry to conduct its business.
Sweeting said that while in the past the district council has “made ends meet” when necessary, it is simply not possible for it to work with this budget.
“Don’t expect to cut our budget so drastically and expect us to perform miracles. We can do great things, we can partner with central government and make funds go further, but we cannot turn water into wine and we cannot feed five thousand with two loaves of bread and five fish.”
A message left for the minister of state for finance was not returned up to press time.
By Alison Lowe
Guardian Business Editor