Yerushalayim Plans Major Worker Cutbacks Unless Treasury Pays Up, City Says

YERUSHALAYIM -
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A political dispute is apparently holding up a badly needed transfer of funds for the day-to-day operations of Yerushalayim – and as a result, the municipality may have to fire as many as half of its workers, unless the Finance Ministry comes up with the promised money. In a statement, the municipality said that “despite the ongoing appeals of Mayor Nir Barkat for a meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon to discuss the special needs of Yerushalayim, there has been no response from the Treasury.

“The country’s biggest, most important city is facing a wave of terrorism, and much of the city’s budget is going toward dealing with that,” the statement said. “Now, more than ever, Yerushalayim needs assistance. Without the immediate transfer of government assistance to the city, there will be no choice but to enact difficult measures that will allow us to file a balanced budget, as required by law.”

Among those measures could be the dismissal of large numbers of city employees – as many as half the sanitation workers and security guards at schools and institutions. According to the city, expenses in fighting the recent spate of stabbing and other terror attacks in the city has drained the budget, and without immediate help, many city services will have to shut down. At a meeting with senior staff Sunday, Barkat reportedly informed senior department managers of the situation.

The roots of the problem do not appear to be economic, but political. Barkat, they said, sees himself as a player on the national political scene, likely to take voters from Kachlon’s Kulanu party should he decide to run. Beyond that, there is bad blood between Barkat and Kachlon over the resignation of Kachlon’s brother, Koby, as Yerushalayim deputy mayor earlier this year. Moshe Kachlon is said to feel that Barkat did not stand up for Koby over a lawsuit and allegations of impropriety against him.

Instead of liaising with Barkat, Kachlon has been discussing the city’s needs with Yerushalayim Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. At a meeting last month, the two decided on an immediate aid package for Yerushalayim, after hundreds of demonstrators and sanitation truck drivers blocked roads and caused huge traffic tie-ups on the road into the city. Notably absent from that meeting was Barkat – who was outside the Finance Ministry as the meeting was going on, leading the demonstration.

In its statement Sunday, the municipality said that it was “working hand in hand with Minister Elkin, who has offered his good services in order to assist the city.” However, the statement said, even commitments made to Elkin are not being honored, and unless the city gets an immediate transfer of NIS 400 million to pay its bills, the cutbacks will be implemented.

In a statement, the Finance Ministry said that “the city of Yerushalayim is being fully funded by the Ministry for Yerushalayim Affairs, and the Finance Ministry is working with it to ensure that the funding for the city is available.”