The Daily Herald writes that Commissioner Bruce Zagers gave an extensive presentation on the draft 2014-2017 multi-annual budget to the Central Committee of the Island Council on Friday. The budget was compiled under the guidelines of the Committee for Financial Supervision (CFT) in conformity with the Decree Budget and Accountability BES law BBVBES. The island budget is to be presented to the Kingdom Government no later than November 15. It should be adopted by the Island Council on November 7. The 2014 budget is US $10,144,000, an increase of US $869,000 over the current year budget. The total “free allowance” (Central Government remittance) for 2014 is US $8,776,000, approximately 87 per cent of the total draft budget. Local revenue total US $1.3 million, some 13 per cent of the budget. Budget drafting and multi-year projections capacity have improved, reducing necessary adjustments. Regular basic operating cost is now based on actual figures, creating greater predictability. Government employee salaries take up some 47 per cent of the budget. Funding for ongoing public works projects has been substantially increased, from US $85,000 in 2013 to US $ 110,000 in 2014 to ensure that ongoing retention wall projects along the public roads will continue without hindrance.
The general expense area of the budget, an area that in previous years received amendments in various quarterly adjustments, has been clearly identified to improve efficiency in project implementation. This includes $100,000 for road maintenance in the St. John’s area, $50,000 for work needed in reconditioning the museum, gazebo and additional work on the new public restrooms. US $50,000 will go towards improving the old library in Windwardside, a project postponed to next year. Money was also allocated for needed upgrades to Sunny Valley Youth Centre in The Bottom. Funding for a new school bus purchase has also been made available.
Significant changes were made on the income side, with revenue adjustments being made by increasing the car road tax with US $20 per year and the airport tax doubled to $10 per departure. Rental income was adjusted for the fishermen sheds in Fort Bay and income to go towards the purchase of land property for a parking space in Windwardside.
On the expenditure side the government salaries have increased, with additional adjustments depending on negotiations between the Kingdom Service Caribbean Netherlands (RCN) and labour unions. Bonaire implemented its own adjustment following the current breakdown in negations. Saba may opt for a similar one-time, gross-payment adjustment of $800 per employee, with an increase from 7.5 to 8.0 per cent in vacation allowance and an increase of the Christmas bonus from $500 to $750. The Departments of Agriculture and Pest-Control will merge with the Department of Public Health. The cost of a social worker has been included in the budget. The social subsidy for the Lions Club Meals on Wheels project increased to $80,000 and that for the Body, Mind and Spirit to $60,000. US $40,000 has been earmarked for the Heritage Centre. Money for the maintenance of the museum grounds and tourist office was made available. The unforeseen cost buffer is set at $100,000. US $300,000 is allocated for the repair of social homes. Saba is requesting an interest-free loan from the national government for social housing maintenance to clear the backlog.
Next, the proposal for government’s acquisition of Hyacinth Cottage, the Corner Imports building and land in Windwardside, worth US $282,500, was discussed. The properties adjacent to the planned parking lot may be partly demolished to widen the road, with the option of renting the cottage to the RCN. Another proposal on the agenda dealt with an increase in the stipends given to island council members.
The agenda for the Island Executive’s delegation for the upcoming meeting in The Hague was also presented by Commissioner Zagers. He spoke also of the work-meetings related to the Minister of Health’s demands for service cuts. While requesting clarity on the ministry’s minimal responsibilities, the Island Governments offered to assist in identify systemic waste.
Island Council Chairman Rolando Wilson and member Eviton Heyliger were absent for the meeting. Acting Chairman Carl Buncamper opened the meeting, attended by fellow Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM) member Amelia Nicholson and Saba Labor Party (SLP) opposition leader Ishmael Levenston. He was assisted by newly confirmed Island Registrar Akilah Levenstone. The Executive Council was represented by Acting Lt. Governor Franklin Wilson and Commissioner Bruce Zagers. The absences triggered councilman Levenston’s remark that “all hands must be on deck” in assuming responsibility for this budget. Levenston also decried the absence of Commissioner Chris Johnson, whom he wished to question on a recent official visit to the Netherlands. Buncamper said the vacation-time absence was announced prior to the meeting and the questioning can occur in the Island Council meeting.