UDP talks at Chamber Meeting
Town Council presents Budget

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 16, No. 5            February 1, 2006

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Mayor Elsa Paz addressing the Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce.

The Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce (ACCC) hosted the San Pedro United Democratic Party (UDP) candidates at their weekly meeting held at the Blue Water Grill last Thursday. The well attended meeting allowed time to hear from the incumbent administration and gave Chamber members an opportunity to have some of their questions answered.

   Mayor Elsa Paz took the floor first. She stressed that she is a person dedicated to the island and that the UDP has a strong united group running for Town Council. She introduced her fellow council members and members of the UDP Election Committee including: Pablo Ico, Councilman candidate; Yolanda Parham as Chairperson for the UDP Election Committee, Harry Longsworth as the UDP election committee campaign manager and the Honorable Manuel Heredia, Belize Rural South Area Representative. Mayor Paz commented that the Town Council has the vision and the desire to continue with the current operations they began three years ago and accomplish more and more projects.

   Mayor Paz stated that trying to please everybody is the hardest part of being the Mayor but she will continue to do her best. She stated that she has worked with the Chamber of Commerce and asks for support from Chamber Members this election. Mayor Paz said that the Town Council needs help from all organizations such as the (ACCC), the Lion’s, Salvadoran Committee and the Honduran Committee as well as all active organizations in San Pedro….stating that “together we can accomplish all our goals in making San Pedro the best it can be.”

   Pablo Ico then took the floor and said he has been living in San Pedro for fifteen years now and it is now his home. He said that the reason he wants to be on the Town Council is because he wants nothing but the best for all residents. The streets, traffic and condition are among the most important issues that must be taken care of and that the benefits of correcting these problems will go to all the people in San Pedro.

   The Honorable Manuel Heredia was next to address the Chamber. He said that the streets and the new marina are the major focus of the Town Council but that it always comes to the issue of money and politics. Mr. Heredia says he only cares about getting things done and doesn’t care who gets the credit as long as the projects that make all of our lives better get accomplished. The cobble stoning of Pescador Drive was done thanks to the business community. “We did receive $150,000.00 from central government but they promised a million. Central government said that they have the will but not the money. We must continue to fight for our needs but we need support from the community,” said Heredia. He added that Central Government receives about $50 million from taxes collected from San Pedro and gives back about $3 million in services. “It is time that we get our fair share,” he stressed. He also said he believes all town councils should get more autonomy and that Central Government has too much control.

   Mr. Heredia then went on to say that the Town Council has seriously looked into making Ambergris Caye the 7th District with the help of Senator Ambrose Tillet. He suggests that Ambergris Caye should incorporate other islands into the 7th District because of the unique problems shared by the Cayes.

   Honorable Heredia also stated that he has also talked to the barge owners and they are willing to get together to make things right in order to use the new port. Then the Area Representative stated that the new bridge will only be for bicycles, golf carts and pedestrians. Basically, the same as the traffic that currently uses the ferry.

   Mayor Elsa Paz took the floor again and spoke of the regular mayor’s meetings she has attended the past three years when all the mayors of Belize get together to share their concerns and problems. She said all the mayors are currently lobbying for more revenues and autonomy.

   Mayor Elsa then said she gets many letters from tourists. Their main concerns are too much traffic, too many vehicles and bad streets. She then stated that she had a friend from the US who knows much about town planning and that friend did a study on revenues and expenses in San Pedro. The result of that study was that Central Government obtains $48 million (from San Pedro) in business taxes, income taxes and hotel taxes. The expenses which include the Fire Department, the Police Department and other Government Departments in San Pedro amount to $3 million. “We must stand together to fight for what San Pedro deserves to benefit everyone,” she said.

   Questions were asked by chamber members and answers were from Mayor Elsa Paz and the Honorable Manuel Heredia.

Q. Why can’t the Town Council enforce regulations for building codes such as parking availability in the town core?
A. The mayor is an ex-officio but there are no meetings held for approvals. If we complain, the ministers do not believe his appointees are doing anything wrong. We still owe Mr. Medina $290,000 for streets. We make noise and we argue but it just doesn’t help. There was the sale of the Mar de Tumbo land which caused an outcry from the people. That sale has gone through and the funds collected over three months ago. The town was promised the money owed to Mr. Medina for the streets once that sale was complete. However, from the sale of Mar de Tumbo, $100,000 was immediately given to the PUP election committee rather than the amount that was agreed upon to go to the town for the streets.

Another example is that the chairman of the ACTCC (Traffic Committee) is responsible for new vehicles on the island and there is a moratorium stopping new vehicles on the island. We look around and see all the new vehicles and we are told over and over again that these are replacement vehicles. We all know that all these new vehicles are not all replacement vehicles. Q. Has the height limitation on buildings increased because a four story building is now being constructed?
A. There was a meeting held and the Master Plan is being revised but not legislated. Cabinet has given consent and it is a legal mandate. The majority vote was made in favor of raising the height restriction from 38 feet to 44 feet but only outside of town and not in the town core.

Q. Is the UDP willing to do anything to stop the influx of more and larger vehicles onto the island?
A. Yes, unless the need is there and the parking is available. We do need to limit the number of golf cart rental companies. We do not need anymore golf cart rental companies. However, I know that we will get more right after elections. Central Government will not allow it before elections because that would make the PUP look bad and could effect how people vote.

Q. There are bigger and more barges now that dock in the front of our island instead of docking at the new port and causing more and more damage to our reef. Since the Town Council has the right to charge for docking at the municipal pier, why not charge more to dock at that pier than the charge for docking at the new port? Does the UDP feel smaller barges are necessary?
A. Smaller barges are necessary. The new port was done with the intentions of smaller barges. The new port needs about $350,000 to make it useable to larger barges. The Port Authority came to a Chamber meeting and showed all their plans to improve the port and stated that the first part of the project would be finished by now but nothing has been done.

Q. Would you consider making all Town Council meetings public?
A. No, but we could and should have a public meeting every quarter instead of yearly and I would be happy to give a copy of the minutes to the local newspaper to make it public.

Q. What can be done about the barges dredging canals at every new project on the north?
A. The fine is small and local authorities have no power and get no support. The Chamber had invited a minister as a guest speaker who said that just taking pictures of this act was no good and that they must be caught in the act by someone who is never here. It just seems impossible with those limitations.

   Kevin Gonzalez then took the floor and spoke of the Master Plan. He stated that the height limitations crept up from 38 feet to 44 feet. What is the next creep? Both parties must come together on a referendum and a Master Plan to decide what is best for the town in buildings, sewerage and streets. Iffy subjects are not good for the Master Plan. A referendum is the majority. We must decide these things now and finalize them so our future is safe for all of us and our children.

   The ACCC Chamber meeting minutes contributed to this story.

Town Council presents Budget

Mayor Elsa Paz presenting the yearly budget to those in attendance.

Where is our money? What is the San Pedro Town Council spending our hard earned tax dollars on?” This question is a common one among many island residents and is asked over and over again. However, when the time comes for the San Pedro Town Council to outline exactly where they have spent every dime and cent of the town budget, less than 15 people attended the town meeting.

   On Monday, January 30th, Mayor Elsa Paz, along with five of her councilors held a town meeting at the Lions Den to address the public on the last fiscal year and how the community’s money was spent. A little more than a dozen people attended, not including the media, and members of the San Pedro Town Council office were present.

   Moderating the meeting was Town Administrator Patricia Verde who invited Mayor Paz to present her revenue and expenses to all. For the first time, the report for the fiscal year for the year 2005-06 of the San Pedro Town Council was aired live via the air waves of Reef Radio.

   At the start of her speech, Mayor Paz stated that the council has been in office for the past 33 months and still remains committed to the concept of accountability and transparency. “This is our final report for this term and we, as always, sincerely hope that this statement will provide and approach for which we can expose this information.” The first order of business was explaining the actual revenue for the SPTC. She stated, “Last year’s budgeted revenue for April 1st, 2004 to March 31st, 2005 was $2,093,727; however actual revenue collected was $2,675,488.19, an increase of $581,721.19 or 28%. This year’s budgeted revenue for April 1st, 2005 to March 31st, 2006 is $2,594,152, an increase of 24% from last year’s budget of$2,093,727. Our cash balance on April 1st, 2005 was $224,468.13 while outstanding bills totaled $86,755.32 with 40% represented by the bill of rehabilitating Pelican and Ambergris Street left from the previous administration and the balance being for road repairs and maintenance. […] Our checking account balances at the Belize Bank Limited and Atlantic Bank were a cumulative of $211,170.03, while we maintain a balance of $1,747.35 at the Government Treasury for a total of $212,917.38. […] SPTC continues to meet our obligations with Caribbean Coves Limited of $13,185 per year for 500 acres of land. This recurrent revenue collection is only possible through our island residents that have been committed to paying their taxes, licenses, and fees to the town. [...] the local taxpayers’ money is the driving force behind a better San Pedro. To date, the SPTC continues to receive only $69,000 in yearly subvention that represents only 2.5% of our actual revenue collected.”

   The second order of business was a detailed description of the accomplishments reached during the fiscal year. Mayor Paz went through 11 different categories as well as giving figures for the monies spent.

a) The biggest accomplishment of the SPTC has been the Pescador Drive Rehabilitation Project. […] The cost of this project was $940,036.48 including $30,001.10 for sales tax paid to the contractor. An additional $88,180 was paid for the purchase of cobblestones, bringing the total to $1,090,036.48. Of this total, the private sector donated $103,379, the Government of Belize $150,000 and Belize Tourism Board $25,000. The Council’s contribution is therefore $749,837.48, of which a balance remains of $242,063.82, which is being paid to the contractor in equal monthly installments of $48,412.77.

b) SPTC secured more garbage bins which were strategically placed around town. They also embarked in a clean-up campaign entitled La Isla Bonita es mi casa, and I like mi casa clean. Stop littering.

c) Central Park has undergone a complete facelift with the assistance of Captain Morgan’s Retreat. Cobblestones were placed in a portion of the park, an information booth and a children’s area was constructed, the bleachers were removed and replaced by attractive park benches. Renovations continue.

d) The construction of the Boca del Rio Bridge is near completion.

e) Assistance to the local government school. Two new classrooms were built at a cost of $22,000 as well as $10,000 paid to school workers and to make much needed repairs.

f) Marketing Ambergris Caye as the number tourism destination of Belize was another prominent project. This was accomplished with the exposure received by co-sponsoring Discover Ambergris Caye, an 84-page magazine. It was also achieved with San Pedro’s presence at the first-ever Expo Tour Latina in Guadalajara, Mexico.

g) Over $10,500 spent in meals, accommodations, transportation, and allowances to various individuals from the fire, health, traffic, and especially the police department, not to mention $24,461.85 to cover the salary of the traffic wardens.

h) In order to alleviate traffic congestion, SPTC provided more road access at a cost of $79,844.25. The construction of a southern road (past WASA) and the new road built in the San Juan Area were accomplished.

i) Sporting activities were supported extensively as well. SPTC introduced the first-ever Dia de San Pedro Fishing Tournament and the St. George’s Caye Day Family Fishing Tournament, as well as the dart, football and other teams which competed outside of San Pedro Town. SPTC contributed a total of $53,130 to various sporting events.

j) Charitable donations. SPTC fully supported organizations rendering assistance to those affected by HIV/AIDS, various individuals and groups in the community for medical, fundraisers, transportation, funerals, disaster relief, local dance groups and assisting Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve. Through this endeavor a total of $22,303.26 was used.

k) The on-going demand in the community is road repair. Yearly, SPTC spends $542,227.34 in road repairs and maintenance. As part of the Christmas preparations, SPTC carried out a special operation after intensely lobbying Ministry of Works, obtained assistance to give major renovation to the constant deterioration of the streets. This was achieved at a cost of $29,500.

   This was followed by a question and answer session. One question asked was about the revenues collected by the sale of land, if a detailed revenue list was available. Mayor Paz stated that yes, it is available and whoever would like a copy can simply stop at the offices of the San Pedro Town Council. Another question dealt specifically with the garbage collection on the island. The individual went on to comment on the deplorable condition of the garbage trucks and the fact that collection has not been carried out in the DFC Subdivision. Mayor Paz said, “San Pedro is growing and developing very fast” we are looking into better ways to accommodate everyone. Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr. commented that DFC Subdivison was not something in their budget; however, it is an added expense that they have included and are doing their best to accommodate the residents living there.

   The meeting was adjourned and the invitation once again extended to anyone that might want a copy of the report to please stop at the San Pedro Town Council office.

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