San Pedro Town Board's cash drawer empty

1.7 million owed in delinquent property taxes

At a special meeting December 4, 1997 which 54 members of the San Pedro business community attended, the San Pedro Town Board endeavored to explain the town's current financial dilemma. Mayor Alberto Nuñez said the reason for the meeting was to inform the community of the board's activities and obligations. He said the board felt it was important to hold a special meeting as only 6 persons came to the Open Town Board Meeting and the financial affairs of the town are everyone's business. An itemized list of old outstanding bills was given to those attending. The Mayor explained that the first column total of $213,295.62 represented the unpaid bills left by the former town board on March 12, 1997. Since March 13, the board has paid $76,117.27 on the outstanding accounts leaving a balance of $137,178.35. An additional $222,052.50 comprised of $6000 to Witte & Witte for garbage site rental, $173,990.00 to Caribbean Coves Ltd. and $64,062.50 to the Government of Belize, was identified as long term loans due. The mayor explained when questioned about the Caribbean Coves bill that although it is a liability, actual cash does not have to be paid as Caribbean Coves has agreed to take a credit on their taxes (for the next 20 years) as payment. The amount to the GOB is the balance due on $75,000 given to the previous town board.

The Mayor was questioned about the recent audit that was conducted on the town board's accounts - were the auditors able to trace where the monies went? "There is no report back from the auditors," Nuñez replied. The mayor was asked if the $137,178 past due was for legitimate bills. "Did you trace these bills and see if it was goods received by the town board, or did it go to somebody's house?" The mayor said he did not know, the report has not been received but that a system has been put in place whereby all purchases are done by authorized purchase orders and the costs are then assigned to each project. More questions arose about the $75,000 loan from the GOB - what was it for? Was it itemized on a voucher? It was explained that all seven former town boards got loans from the GOB. The money in San Pedro is to date unaccounted for.

Mayor Nuñez continued, explaining how the town board receives its income. Amounts are received from trade licences and liquor licences, but the bulk of the money - approximately 1.4 million dollars, comes from property taxes. "We have increased our efforts in collecting taxes, and licenses but it's not working. We have two lawyers working on collections." Questions were raised about why trade and liquor licences were overdue. "When you get your license, don't you pay then? Why not?" Mayor Nuñez said it should be that way but most people do business and then apply for a license when they are questioned. Town Clerk Ruben Gonzalez explained that the Trade License Committee and Liquor Licensing Committees approve the licenses, then the Town Board has to collect. When asked why the licenses are not paid for before being issued, it was explained that the committees and the Town Board are separate entities - the committees are appointed by Central Government and are not responsible to the town board. Gonzalez said that property taxes were the biggest segment that are overdue but it is very difficult to go after the small guys, we don't want to take their land from them. Discussion followed about how to get people to pay their taxes. Someone suggested publishing the names of those in arrears. Deputy Mayor Elito Arceo asked, "Who will pay for the publishing?" Bruce Collins, editor of the San Pedro Sun said, in an effort to help the town board with collections, he would publish the names of those in arrears at no charge.

Mayor Nuñez reported that the town board had gone to merchant banks to get a loan to pay the overdue bills, the banks are willing, he said, if the government approves. We wrote a letter to the Minister of Works - then someone said "they can't pay it back, I won't sign it," so we wrote another letter enlisting help and still haven't heard anything. In the meantime we are trying to cut expenses - the phone, stationary, office supplies. We know this is the slow time of the year for collections. In January things will be better.

In other business it was reported that a meeting was held with the Ministry of Health regarding building a well established clinic. Currently the town board pays the nurse's salary. If a piece of land can be acquired, we can get funding to build a clinic. The Ministries of Health and Works will provide plans and a loan for the project. The land in San Pablo, that formerly was to be the site of a clinic is too far from the majority of the people to be useful. New land must be centrally located.

Meetings have been held with the Mexican Ambassador regarding borrowing a dredge for land filling.

Bob Witte who owns the land that the current garbage dump is located on, is said to be disappointed that the dump is not a sanitary land fill. The plan for a sanitary land fill is still in place, however the town board needs to identify enough projects to qualify for a large loan. Lenders want to finance larger projects. Currently the process of burning the garbage and then covering it with sand is acceptable to Witte and the Department of the Environment.

Eddie Halliday Jr. was asked to make a presentation on a dust control and erosion control product for the streets. Halliday said a visitor had forwarded the information and a video showing the product in use to him. The product is a polymer, that when mixed with water and applied properly to sand streets and dirt roads hardens and acts as a sealant and prevents dust. Samples of the products were passed around and the video was viewed. It was estimated that for the product to cover 1 mile of San Pedro's streets would be $24,500BZ. This cost is for dust control only - two applications would be needed for a more permanent road bed. (It is not known if that price includes labor and equipment). Several persons commented that proper drainage needs to be established before any road surfacing can be attempted, and the issue of heavy vehicles and limiting the amount of vehicles was discussed. "There are more and more vehicles every day - who is in control?" Many opinions on health hazards, drainage, vehicle limitation were put forth. Halliday politely responded, "It was my responsibility to present the product and the video, which is what I've done." He was thanked for his efforts and the town board was asked to get more specific information from towns in the Caribbean with sand streets whom have used the product.

The final item on the agenda was a request to the citizens to assist financially with the purchase of Christmas lights.

San Pedro Town Board's cash drawer empty

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