Posted: Sunday, December 6, 2020. 6:20 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: As his Council goes into its final months, Belize City Mayor Bernard Wagner presides over a City facing a financial crunch.
The Old Capital’s residents and businesses alike are suffering like everyone else under the COVID-induced financial crisis, and so, the Council isn’t able to collect on all the taxes they needed to run the City’s affairs.
Speaking recently to reporters, the Mayor stated, “COVID had significant impact on our revenue stream. What we use to collect, we are collecting in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 percent, so it has been cut in half. What we have had to do is to ensure that we prioritize and with the mind that we need to keep all our workers intact, that is the driving force behind how we run, we do not want to add to the unemployment list, we have over 300 plus staff with families. We have been down in the trenches, we have held the hands with our staff, we expect more from our collection staff, they are given amounts that they are to give in respect to property tax, you can’t pressure the residence of the city, everybody is going through hardship and so we have to have some empathy and that is what will get us through this COVID, empathy for each other.”
Despite the low collections, the Mayor said his Council had tried its best to provide incentives and opportunities for residents to pay what they owe: “…we did a campaign where those individuals that rented marker stalls, rented boots at the parks, we gave them a moratorium that they didn’t have to pay any rent until September. So that was one way that we assisted those small business owners. We also did a 15% discount on all property taxes; that again, assisted many residents in the city. Now we have the business component where there were many businesses that already paid in trade license in early 2020 and didn’t have the opportunity to do any business. So what we’ll be doing and we have applied through local government because we have to apply to local government for that, we give those individuals and those businesses a rebate or a credit on the 2021 trade license, so we are still awaiting the response from local government that was sent about a month ago and so once we get that, then we’ll know definitively all those businesses what relief will come their way.”
The Council has $4.5 million outstanding in property taxes but it would prefer not to take individuals to court. If you owe, he said, you can work out payment plans and ensure that you do your part for the City.
The outlook, he concluded, is not encouraging in a month that is traditionally the “most wonderful time of the year” for businesses and for the Council that collects revenue from them: “…it is trickling in but not to the level that we use to be able to pay back most of the debt we would have incurred during the slow months but we have to continue to fight through this going forward post-COVID, any council would have to be mindful of post-COVID and you will have to have steady leadership, you will have to have leadership that understands how this economy works and how you could create that synergy and energy where people feel good about doing business again in the city.”
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