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St George’s Mayor: Govt vetting of municipalities’ business ‘probably unworkable’

St George's Mayor Garth Rothwell yesterday expressed some concern that the recently passed Municipalities Amendment Bill would introduce a new layer of bureaocracy.

However he welcomed new and proposed financial allocations intended to help the Corporation maintain the historic town.

The Municipalities Amendment Bill 2013, which narrowly passed in the House of Assembly last Wednesday, proposes a raft of changes for the Island's two municipalities. The bill restores the right of business owners to vote through a hybrid voting system, replaces deputy mayor and alderman posts with councillors, and gives greater power over the Corporations to the Government.

Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outebridge and his predecessor, Charles Gosling, have criticised the bill, calling it a step towards the ending of the municipalities.

However Mr Rothwell said yesterday: “In some ways we are already working with Government in the manner suggested in the Municipalities Act. Since we are nowhere near self financing, we have to put forward our plans and seek approval for funding.

“The requirement for all resolutions and Ordinances to be vetted in draft by the Minister and Attorney General seems very bureaucratic and will probably be unworkable. It should be limited to issues of national importance.”

He also expressed concern about having to receive comment or approval from multiple Government ministries when working on a project.

“Our experience is that it takes a long time to get a reply and involves us in too many phone calls and man hours,” he said. “The provisions of this Municipality Act will probably increase these delays at a time when we require faster responses.”

In order to speed up the process, he suggested creating cross-ministry teams for larger projects and adding a caveat to the act, stating that if the Corporation has not received a response within 21 days they can proceed.

He also noted a clause in the legislation, stating that the Minister may temporarily remove infrastructure or services from a Corporation's stewardship if it is in “poor state”, saying that perhaps the clause should be reciprocal — allowing the Corporation to take over when a Government department fails to provide the service, with the Corporation also getting the budget assigned to the service.

He said that since cruise ships stopped visiting the East End, the town does not collect enough tax to cover operating costs for maintaining the town — much less enough to fund capital improvements or preventative maintenance.

As a result, he said he was encouraged by the allocation of $360,000 by the Government for capital works, and said the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Tax on fuel was welcome.

Mr Rothwell said the tax, if set at 0.25 cents per litre, should be able to cover all of the Corporation's annual operating shortfall and provide an additional $150,000 for preventative maintenance and small capital projects in the next year — assuming that other Government grants remain in place.

“The Corporation is currently working on a five-year plan for improving our infrastructure in the town which includes dock repairs, identifying streets and services under streets which are in dire need of replacement, putting a roof on the Queen Street building housing the electrical distribution board for our sanitary system and other projects,” he said.

“We anticipate this will exceed the $150,000 funding available from the heritage tax annually, and we look forward to further discussions with the Minister once the Corporation has agreed to the five-year plan.”

He said the Corporation would use the $360,000 allocation to purchase a trash truck and pick-up truck, along with refurbishing the Town Square public bathrooms and making dock repairs at Ordnance Island, Pennos Wharf and possibly Hunter's Wharf.

Mayor of St George's Garth Rothwell

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Published October 07, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 07, 2013 at 12:58 am)

St George’s Mayor: Govt vetting of municipalities’ business ‘probably unworkable’

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