If there was any thought that the hiring of more than three-quarters of the former staff of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) in January as part of the taking over of their sanitation contract by the Belize City Council would end the long-standing impasse between the two, those hopes have temporarily been dashed by news that the two are in court yet again. This time the dispute is over a partially paid judgment owed by the Council from several years ago, which is not connected to the settlement of the contract dispute that this time last year saw angry workers strewing garbage in front of City Hall and later arrested by Police. While things are not that drastic, Mayor Darrell Bradley has hope for settlement this time, though he suspects it will take rather longer. He told us more.
“We still have an issue with them that we owe them a sizeable judgment which is in excess of two million dollars. And we had a situation similarly with Waste Control, but we managed over the last two years to negotiate with Waste Control and pay them off. Now what we are doing with BML is that we are paying them off, we have to pay them fifteen thousand dollars per week; we have entered into an agreement with them. We are getting a contribution from the central government to meet that outlay. It is very difficult for us to meet that every single week because again, we are looking at the slow season—it is not like you have that inflow from trade license, from traffic revenues, from property taxes that are coming in. These revenues typically come in the months of January to March. After those months, the City Council basically takes in very little revenue, so it is very difficult for us to meet those outlays. We have several sizeable judgments that we still have to deal with. All of these judgments were judgments that were brought on the council before I became mayor, but we still have to ensure that we are paying them off.”
According to Bradley the Council has paid off what was outstanding to BML in terms of compensation for terminating the contract. He is not considering implementing a proposed $10 residential garbage fee floated as a partial response to the issue. There are enough revenues available, he said, to get the amount paid off.
“This kinda ties in with the conference; that we look at our various revenue potential and one of it was the residential garbage fee. One of the things that we did was when we did public consultations…while there was a lot of people who were in favor of that fee and I still do believe in that fee, a lot of people raised the argument that that one of things that you should do is go after existing revenues—be it our financial statements, our audit, everything—we made those public online. And people actually looked at those and make representations…before you charge me ten dollars, go after that ten point two million [dollars] weh people owe yo ina back taxes and try to increase your property tax collection rate from sixty-eight percent, which it was about two years ago. Those were some of the strategies that we have implemented so that right now we are reporting in this forum that our collection rate has gone up to seventy-eight; we are almost at eighty percent. What that means is that every single person that we billed in last fiscal year for property taxes, eighty percent of those persons paid their property taxes in that billing cycle and that’s very good because we are the highest in the country. That’s still not an impressive rate because other municipalities who we engage with, their collection rates are like ninety-odd percent. So that we are consistently moving forward in terms of ensuring that we get up there. So that the criticism that we take in terms of the driver’s license things and those kinds of things, they have a positive impact. So that we can say, you pay your property taxes or you won’t get a driver’s license. But on the reverse, you are getting cement streets and also the mayor doesn’t have to implement a ten dollar garbage fee because the taxes that you owe are paying for our debt servicing.”
The Council is also working through its issues with Belize Waste Control and hopes to get all of this behind it sooner rather than later. A total of 147 ex-BML employees took up employment with the Council. Central Government continues to help defray the Council’s costs in paying salaries and part of the weekly payments for both the BML and Waste Control judgments.