Nobody can say that Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat doesn’t keep his promises. Three days after he announced that mass layoffs were imminent due to a dispute over funds, Barkat on Thursday fired all 170 street cleaners working for the city. An additional 2,000 dismissals are planned – if the Finance Ministry does not immediately transfer NIS 400 million to city coffers, the municipality said Thursday.
“Immediately” means Dec. 31, when the official budget for many city services runs out. Next on the chopping block will be security staff at Yerushalayim schools, meaning that as of Friday, security guards will no longer be posted at the entrance to all schools. It should be noted that as a city service, as opposed to an Education Ministry service, the lack of security guards will affect all educational institutions in the city, including public schools, yeshivos, and girls’ schools.
In a statement, Barkat said that “this was a decision that was too horrible to even contemplate, but we have no choice. The refusal of the Treasury to transfer funds to Yerushalayim does not allow us to continue to provide services to residents, and we are being forced to take this drastic step of firing workers who are needed for the day-to-day operations of the city. Cuts will have to be made that will affect health, welfare, education, and even security.
“During this time of terror we had hoped that the city would receive assistance, and not a cold shoulder,” the statement added. “Without government assistance to Yerushalayim, these painful cuts, and others, will have to be made, further harming the already difficult situation faced by residents.”
The reason for the crisis is not clear. According to the Finance Ministry, “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.”
Until now, Barkat has not met to discuss the matter with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, although Barkat has said that he has sought such a meeting many times. 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.
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 his 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.
If the problem is not resolved by Sunday, further cuts will be implemented in a wide variety of programs – among them a near-stoppage of funds for 400 of the city’s neediest families, closure of programs for the elderly, the dismissal of gardeners and road repair crews, closure of educational programs for dropouts and students from troubled families, a sharp drop in funding for community cultural events, and much more.