City Hall has cash but Rama says city needs more money to fund big obligations
Cebu City is in the pink of health as far as the city government’s finances are concerned,according to Mayor Michael Rama.
In his State of the City Address (SOCA) in his second term in office, Rama declared that City Hall remains “seaworthy” with P1.7 billion cash in the bank after four years under his administration.
Rama said the city’s finances would remain robust without having to raise taxes because of revenue expected from foreign investments being proposed for the South Road Properties (SRP).
Peace and order conditions were “relatively fair”, he said.
The mayor gave credit to the aggressive tax collection efforts of the City Treasurer’s Office saying it did this without having to increase tax rates.
“As doomsayers started painting a bleak picture of our financial status, saying that we will default in paying our loan obligations for the SRP, the City Treasurer’s Office immediately debunked the myth by paying our obligations on time along with other payables including benefits due to the employees.” he said.
Rama delivered his SOCA before an opposition-dominated City Council.
He was elected mayor in 2010 after three terms as city councilor and vice mayor, then was reelected in 2013, beating former mayor and erstwhile political ally, Tomas Osmena.
Despite a healthy cash position, Rama said City Hall needs more money to fund preparations for the roll out of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as well as the hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (Apec) meetings in 2015 and the International Eucharistic Congress in 2016.
Rama said he hopes the local legislature would allow him to dispose of city government’s Block 27 at the North Reclamation Area to have more money available for the city’s use.
Among his major accomplishments last year, Rama cited the continued operation of the Cebu City Medical Center despite the earthquake that forced it to be transferred to the fire department building.
He also cited the reblocking of roads in fire-hit barangays of T. Padilla, Ermita, Carreta, Tejero and Lorega San Miguel, and P250 million worth of drainage improvement projects.
“We have promised to continue the work we have previously started, guided by our vision of making Cebu City a livable and sustainable community,” he said.
He said the mission is to “bring back the hope of the youth and children to trust the government.”
The mayor said his administration spent P265.7 milllion to concrete farm-to-market roads and P183 million to asphalt roads.
He also reported the restoration of Freedom Park, Waricks Barracks and Carbon area as heritage sites, and the setting up of the City Hall at Your Doorstep Program.
Next year, the m ayor said he wants to rehabilitate the city’s traffic signal system which would cost P800 million and continue rebuilding the CCMC.
Rama said he wil fully use the economic potential of the SRP and pursue a bail out plan to clear the P3 billion balance of the SRP’s Japanese loan.
Other projects ahead are a housing project for city employees, a children’s park at the old Pasil Fish Market, a Magellan’s Park beside the Senior Citizens Park, and the transformation of S. Osmena Road into a scenic gateway.
He promised to pursue clearing the three-meter easement of rivers and creeks, and support the establishment of a third bridge to connect Cebu City’s south district to Cordova town, aside from initiatives of Mega Cebu 2050.
Rama started his hour-long message by thanking the City Council for inviting him to deliver his SOCA during their inaugural session.
Rama recalled that in his adrdess last year, he assured councilors “that our journey – our voyage – towards genuine public service and meaningful development is safe and secure because City Hall is seaworthy.”
He invited city officials to join his voyage in steering city hall to a policy direction of “People-Privately Driven Governance.”
“We were proven right in our belief then that public-private partnership not only works wonders. More importantly, it spreads the burden of service and governance to many stakeholders, who we refer to in our Spider Web approach illustrations as the Action Team,” he said.
“Dili ta pwede mamakpak ana?” Rama asked the crowd who obliged with loud applause.
Rama reported that the city assessors office has identified P29 billion worth of taxable properties in the city during their real property valuation which could earn the city P870 million in real property taxes.
He also spoke of proposals by a Japanese firm to put up a retirement facility at the SRP and another offer from a Middle East based company to put up mixed development in Kawit Island. Even the 26-hectare property in SRP where the San Pedro Calungsod templete is located is up for sale.
With funds available, Rama said, the city can easily fulfill its obligation and release financial assistance to people with disabilities or PWDs, senior citizens, solo parents and children in conflict with the law.
(Rama, however, had earlier vetoed a proposed ordinance that would grant P5,000 annual cash assistance for solo parents.)
Peace and order
Rama said the the city’s peace order situation was “relatively fair”. Two months ago he publicly berated the city’s police force for a spike in crime incidence.
“Thank God we haven’t experienced incidents of very serious crimes like those in other areas of the country,” he said yesterday but said the police should not be complacent.
Rama said he gave the police marching orders to intensify the anti-drug campaign and go after “big fish”.
“We will allocate funds in the budget for police cars. In motivating our police force, we look for funds not focusing on rewards to tipsters, but for awards of heroic policemen performing under exceptional circumstances. I need the council’s help. Many of our police stations are not attended to. I am asking from the bottom of my heart that you approve a budget for their equipment,” he said.
Reacting to the mayor’s speech, Councilor Margot Osmena said the city’s P1.7 billion cash in bank includes accounts placed on time deposit, trust funds and appropriations placed under the Special Education Funds (SEF) which City Hall can’t use for day-to-day operations. The city’s cash in bank is broken down as trust fund – P4664.3 million; SEF – P281.2 million: general fund – P45 million and ‘barrio’ funds at P19.7 million.
Osmeña said Rama failed to mention in his SOCA that most of the cash placed under the city’s general funds accounts have already been appropriated.
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