-Contributed by fellow business member and meeting participant-
This was a disorganized disrespectful rabble of a meeting, the first of what we all hope will be regular meetings from this Village Council, and was attended by approximately 50 people and as the meeting went on, many more people outside. There was a certain faction that were inebriated, and impolite.
Mr Miller opened the meeting only a few mins after 7pm, which was a great start. He told us what he thought the accomplishments were over the short time period since middle of July and brought us up to date on the sorry state of the finances. When questioned directly later in the meeting he did tell us that there is almost $500,000.00 in tax arrears, and that although 90% of the foreign population was up to date with taxes, only 28% of the local population was. He said that in order for this village council to succeed, taxes needed to be paid and reminded us all that paying taxes was an obligation, not a choice. Some member of the community commented that nobody in Belize pays taxes, at which point another member pointed out that that person did not have a say in the meeting if he chose not to pay tax. Mr Miller also informed us that the Area Rep, Mr Heredia, had not been to the island yet to meet the new council and there has been little response from his office. Mr Miller told us that he had been to Cabinet yesterday to ratify the budget for the year. He said that if he can collect just 20% of the taxes due in the next 6 months, then would be financially viable again. He mentioned that he will be sending out court summons to those in serious arrears as a last resort.
The floor was then opened up to the community to address their issues. This was a lengthy process but stayed on track in terms of the three things that people seem most concerned about.
The Roads. New Building – no control. Dog problems.
Roads: Various and many people asked about the plans for the roads as they are as bad as they have ever been right now. With more rainfall this month than any time since 2009, Mr Miller said that of course they were bad right now and with the rain still pouring there was little to be done till it dried up a bit. The grand plan, is to have properly engineered roads. Whether this means paving them or not was unclear, but Mr Miller said that the roads had been completely done in May this year at a cost of $140,000 – now less than 6 months later they are as bad as ever, so he and the council feels that a longer term solution is key. They are consulting with an engineering firm to come up with a plan, costs and timing. It was unclear how long this process would take. The CCVC will report back to us on the outcome when it comes. Meanwhile, Mr Miller said he will carry on patching the worst sections and stockpile the rocks as they can afford it. Meanwhile one member of the community stood up and said we should all be helping, we should all be the ones to fix the street by our house, if we all did this, then the council can concentrate their efforts on the other problems.
The building works on the island. There were many villagers showing concern that there did not appear to be any village input through to the CBA with regard to recommending new building projects. The following were noted. The Chinatown complex is now getting a 4th floor and the CCVC and villagers feel that this building is unsafe. Mr Miller read aloud the letter he sent to the CBA in September 2013, and their response. The response was that so far, Chinatown had adhered to all the building regulations as of 26th September 2013. The new palapa in the centre of the village that is going up opposite Mr Neil’s house was mentioned as being a fire hazard and being built too close to the property lines (there were many at the meeting who remembered the fear of the Seaside Cabanas fire and Popeyes and Tom and Mary Jo’s house – all palapa – then of course there was the recent fire at Ramon’s). Mr Miller said that the CCVC had recommended that and he assumes that the CBA have also given them authorization. There was in interjection from the previous Chairman, Mr Viillaneuva, who stated that the palapa was to be a restaurant and that therefore the licensing committee could put a stop to the works if they had not been informed of the plans for the new building. Mr Miller said he would check into it. There was much discussion on the right of the village to recommend, or not, future building projects. Height restrictions were also talked about again. Mr Miller said that the village council is not involved in the process at this time, but said that he agreed we should be, but “what can we do? C’est la vie’. Villagers feel that perhaps the involvement of the press would sway the CBA into seeing things our way. Mr Miller said we should do that, although he did not feel obligated to be the spokesperson.
Dogs: Mr Micheal from the Blue Coral gift shop asked Mr Miller and the council what they plan to do about dogs on the island. He told us that he was frightened to go out of his yard one day as two pit bulls almost penned him in one morning. There was much agreement on this and mention of leash law and people should scoop poop too as the children are walking in the puddles and the dog poop is contaminating the water and the kids could get sick. Much agreement on this, although nothing from the Village Council on the impending new dog laws that have been rumored.
Other points of note:
One villager asked about lighting on the beach as we come back to high season and the reports of robbery and rape on the dark sections of beach will start again. There was no response to this from the Council.
NEMO: Mr Humes talked at length about the NEMO setup, the new flagpole in Bahia, and how it all works.
Treasury: Ms Marin, told us that there was $50,000 and change in the bank for the CCVC at this time. Better than 3 months ago, but ‘we need more’.
Schools: Ex head, Ms Neldy talked about how us, as adults, need to be aware that out actions replay directly though the kids and if we want a better upbringing for our kids, then these lessons need to start with adults behaving like adults. Mr Buck donated $250 to the school at the meeting.
Mr Humes: Said he was very disappointed with the conduct of the villagers in this meeting.
Noise Complaints: Mr Miller made it clear that the village council is not mediating neighbor disputes, that this village has no zoning and as such we all need to learn to behave with respect for our neighbors. This of course does not help when relations have broken down to such an extent that talking can no longer help. Does this mean the courts and the police?
All the way through this meeting Mr Miller’s mantra was about how to bring the village together, to be a cohesive unit. Although laudable in that respect, what I believe is missing from this is an eagerness to intervene with the village interests at heart. There were two notable times that the villagers were told that “C’est la vie’ and we were welcome to try to sort it out. Once about the buildings and of the CBA giving authorization without checking with the CCVC. and then again with regard to financial or other help from our area rep Mr Manuel Heredia. Mr Miller showed no interest in trying to make either of these dim situations any better, believing perhaps that here is nothing he can do?
Caye Caulker Chronicles