By Charles Leslie Jr.
Every year, after the famous Easter weekend in Placencia, you would hear about the many issues that affected the peninsula – parking issues, restroom issues leading to public urination and even defecation, trash issues, security and safety issues, trash issues, private property damage issues and the list goes on.
Not too long ago many of these issues went unheard of, however, since the advent of Facebook, it is generally easy to make an assessment, and my personal observation says the mainstay issues still exists and new ones are being identified.
In 2013 I predicted that the Placencia peninsula – a community that is 99% tourism-oriented – has 5 years to function properly under the Village Council Act, at which time the entire peninsula will start to see an escalation and a loss of control of many of the issues that currently exists.
These issues are manifesting mainly due to the lack of certain structure and infrastructure such as adequate parking and traffic control, trash collection, public facilities such as restrooms, health/trauma facilities, insufficient police officers, inadequate police infrastructure and equipment etc… Why? Both Village Councils on the peninsula simply do not have access to adequate financial resources to address and keep up with mitigating the issues that are manifesting due to the booming tourism-industry growth on the peninsula.
It is the job of the private sector to bring economic activity to the peninsula and pay all necessary taxes and fees, and it is the job of the public sector to make sure all the necessary structure, infrastructure and mechanisms are in place to address the economic effects.
The Councils are hamstrung because they are limited to the amount of resources available to them in relation to the public mandate they have to fulfill.
Currently, both Councils don’t have any access to a portion of the taxes collected on the peninsula (business tax, general sales tax, hotel tax), no access to property taxes, no access to trade license fees (currently not being collected locally or by the treasury), no access to building fees.
Accessing these additional available resources would give the Councils 100s of thousands if not millions of dollars per year to fulfill their public mandate.
It is time that the Placencia peninsula think outside the box to mitigate the growing number of issues due to development. Below I make two recommendations:
Short-term action plan: Activate the Peninsula Planning Commission – the Peninsula 2020 process demonstrated that most of the challenges facing the Peninsula, whether economic, social, or environmental, transcend village and neighborhood governance and can best be met on a Peninsula wide basis.
This study also pointed out that there is general consensus on the need for more cooperation and coordination among the two Village Councils and community groups.
The purpose of the Peninsula Planning Commission would be to advise the Village Councils, a Peninsula Advisory Council along the lines of the 2020 Steering Committee, which I was a part of as Chairperson of Placencia (2010 – 2013) – I must say that it was a pleasure working on that committee, for it got things done.
To jump start this committee, it can be done by organizing monthly social session among the area’s elected officials and community leaders.
Medium-term action plan: Apply for township status – Placencia needs to become a township so that it can take advantage of the Town Council Act. Township will give the Town Council access to trade license fees, property taxes, Local Building Authority and building fees, designated traffic department, the ability to apply to central government for annual and special subventions; as well as give the Town Council more power in making decisions to fulfill its public mandate, locally.
As of right now, both Village Councils have to go to the Ministry of Local Government to make decisions that should be made locally, and have to beg for too many resources it needs to function properly, when it should be able to procure those resources locally, and the resources are available on the peninsula.
With the activation of Peninsula Planning Commission, it will help all stakeholders on the peninsula to build a foundation that may prove the effectiveness of working together towards a common goal, and thus encourage and convince the majority that a township can work, which is a more permanent, democratic and stable system for the peninsula to fulfill its public mandate.
In conclusion, the development and the stress on the public sector on the Placencia peninsula has long outgrown the Village Council Act and the limited power and resources it gives to the Councils.
There are too many mainstay issues and new ones being identified, for this to be ignored any further. Collective effort is a must if the Placencia peninsula wants solve many of the issues that have arisen due to development.
Charles Leslie Jr. is the Chairman of the Belize Unity Alliance and the former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience.
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