Town Council holds first public meeting

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 29            July 31, 2003

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The first public forum between Mayoress Elsa Paz, the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC), Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr. and the citizens of Ambergris Caye took place on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003. Although only a dozen or so residents attended the meeting, several interesting topics were discussed.

Mayoress Paz opened the meeting and expressed the Town Council's determination to provide and maintain as much of the essential infrastructure of San Pedro as the budget allows. She announced budgeted revenue in excess of $1.9 million for the year April 2003 to March 2004. The Mayoress then noted that the Council only receives $69,000 or 3.5% of the budget in yearly subventions from Central Government. She also encouraged all government agencies, civic groups, business owners and individuals to act responsibly in making Ambergris Caye a safer, healthier and more attractive place in which to live, work and enjoy our families, friends and visitors.

The Mayoress expressed the Council's appreciation to all local taxpayers who provide the money to pay for the island's capital improvements and maintenance at the direction of the Council. She expressed her commitment to the policy of consulting with the public before making a final decision to initiate a project. Mayoress Paz stated her praise for the many people who have thoughtfully contributed their time and energy to consider and discuss the problems confronting San Pedro. She explained that whenever possible, the Council wishes to act in a way that will reflect the desires of the majority and enhance the quality of life for all who live here.

The Mayoress then reviewed the projects undertaken by local government in the past five months. These include the construction of a new ramp on the south side of the Boca del Rio ferry, water service for the many people living along the north side of the river, refinishing the popular Tarpon Street 5-A-Side court, and the construction of five bike- and golf cart-friendly speed bumps.

Future SPTC plans and announcements were revealed as follows:

A new ramp on the north side of Boca del Rio is expected to be in place before the end of the year. Also, a grant from the Basic Needs Trust Fund will provide the necessary funds to make electrical service available to the homes on the north side of the river by this year's end.

SP Town Councilor Mel Spain now chairs the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee (ACPC). Fees collected by the ACPC are used to support their work including research, clerical and inspector's salaries. The requirement of businesses to plan for off street parking is not to be applied retroactively.

The Town Council is continuing to work with Central Government to locate a site for a new cemetery.

Architecturally created photographs of an "ideal" tourism and resident-friendly Central Park were circulated. Full details of this renovation will be disclosed at a more appropriate time.

The San Pedro Marina, located in the San Pablo area, should be up and running in early September. Agreements have been reached with all barge companies to use this pier. An asphalt road is planned to support the heavy equipment traffic from the Marina to approximately the site of the current Caribbean Queen depot.

Cobble stoning of streets will re-commence in September or October, depending on the availability of funds from Central Government. The next stretch of cobblestone paving is planned from the San Juan statue to the airstrip. An alternative route, that will by-pass the diesel plant during the construction phase, is being considered. Additional speed bumps are planned in an effort to keep traffic from exceeding safe speed limits.

The completion of the new police station on Pescador Drive will secure the appointment of a resident magistrate and the availability of five-day-a-week court hearings. Timely court proceedings are expected to increase the number of traffic tickets written in San Pedro, with the monies collected from fines going to the SPTC.

Garbage containers, sandwich signs, steps etc., are again encroaching on the streets. Voluntary compliance is inadequate and other enforcement alternatives are complicated by the lack of a resident magistrate. SPTC was urged to exercise their authority in this matter.

The San Pedro Town Council, and all but one person at the meeting, voiced strong support for the upcoming Vehicle Census. Concern was expressed that vehicle permits would only be available to the highest bidder. That was the first of many ideas expressed about criteria for vehicle ownership on Ambergris Caye. Other proposals include possession of a Belize driver's license, citizenship or legal residency, and the requirement of off-street parking.

Mayoress Paz requested comments on a bridge to replace the ferry at Boca del Rio. She said that the SPTC is fully committed to hearing ideas from all residents before deciding to build, or not build, a bridge. Any bridge the Town Council would consider would be limited to pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes and golf carts.

More streetlights were requested for the south end of the island. Work continues on surveys to ascertain the legal right of way, and streetlights will be installed following this determination. It was noted that the north side had declined the installation of streetlights with the exception of the landing ramp area on the north side of the ferry.

A non-agenda topic that generated a great deal of interest was the garbage situation north of the river.At present, there is a service in the Tres Cocos area that collects garbage daily from approximately 27 residences and one business. Collection is made between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. using a hand drawn, Mennonite-built cart. The service costs $1 a day and the cart operators are paid $25 per day. They take the cart across the ferry to a nearby municipal collection site. The business pays an additional $50 a month to Town Council.

Transfer of garbage from the north side to the main disposal site is a problem that needs attention. Automotive hauling, even by a road-friendly tractor/trailer, is not possible year-round due to road conditions. A marine-based service with designated pier pickups was suggested as a more reasonable alternative.

Topics discussed, but not presented at the meeting included issues related to the increasing presence of cruise ship tourists, Belize Electricity Limited issues, mandatory bicycle registration with stickers, and asking the ACPC to regulate commercial signs that exceed ten square feet.

Mayoress Paz concluded the meeting with the promise of another public meeting in the near future.



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