Belize City Mayor Bernard Wagner says that the previous council did not adhere to its budget and overspent tens of thousands of dollars on several goods and services, including concerts and a huge fuel bill for the City Administrator, Candice Miller. The newly elected Belize City Council summoned the media this afternoon to disclose what its Transition Team found out. The transition team was formed with the purpose to provide the new PUP council with an insight and understanding of the financial operations undertaken by the past UDP city council. The Transition Team examined audited financials from March 2014 to March 2017 and unaudited financial documents from January to March 2018. The documents reviewed pertained to revenues and expenditures. According to Mayor Wagner, the council’s expenditures for the past four years was upwards of twenty million dollars per year. Wagner pointed out that the budget was not followed.
Bernard Wagner, Mayor of Belize City: “Look at the categories. ‘Overtime’ budgeted $136,000, spend $332,000; is there prudence there ? ‘Summer employment’, this is when we employ youths, $20,000 budgeted- spent $44,000. ‘Special portfolio allocation’ budgeted $180,000- spent $406,000. ‘Donation’ budgeted $72,000- spent $163,00. This big one here ‘Celebrations and Festivities’ a lot of party was going on here, $96,000- spent $455,000. ‘Entertainment’ I wonder if the $6,000 is in this, $26,000- spent $110,000. ‘Fuel’ budgeted half a million dollars- spent $641,000 how can a council spend close to a million dollars in fuel? I’ll leave that to the good press right? Scanning of period revealed abuse by previous council and particularly the City Administrator in respect to fuel. The City Administrator racked up almost $30,000 annually in fuel. Interesting to note is the fact that the previous council spent over $1.3 million in celebrations and festivities from the period 2014-2017. Spent $1.3 million in celebration and festivities over a three year period and whilst speaking with the managers the managers have always been indicating to us that they wanted to comply but the political directorate did not allow them, it was a heavy handedness. Isn’t that so Miss Ordonez? What we found, and we continue again, is that the departments increased expenditure with no positive results, no results at all. There was a culture of incurring expenditure with no commensurate results. I go again for example, ‘public relations’, this is the PR department for the council; parks and playgrounds together spent $406,000 in 2014, $680,000 in 2015, $584,000 in 2016 and $801,000 in 2017 just a continuous spiral upwards.”
According to Mayor Wagner, under the past administration, there has been an erosion of the council’s revenue base.
Bernard Wagner, Mayor of Belize City: “It is evident that from the analysis that there has been a steady erosion of the revenue base of the council. The increase in uncollectable is running ahead of the increase in revenue. A statistical sampling of the tax roll, what we did was a sampling of the tax roll and it reveals that there may be large amounts of accounts that may have become statute barred meaning that they are uncollectible. We also scanned the tax roll by zone and what it revealed is that valuations on many properties are skewed. We also found that there is an inefficient and ineffective method of tax assessment delivery and we also noted that the discount program is one of the chief driveres in eroding our capital base for the council so we need to certainly look at that going forward. Recommendations, there is an urgent need to reorganize and restructure the valuation and revenue department to allow for a more integrated management overall revenues especially property tax and trade licenses which are on the same valuation base. These two revenue sources account for approximately 65% of the total revenue of the council and we want to point out here that the law lays out clearly how revenues are to be assessed and collected. There is no need to give discounts, the council loses on an annual basis over $800,000 in discounts. We also need to look at revisiting the situation with the collection agents. There are currently 13 agents collecting taxes and it costs the council over $269,000 annually, there is an urgent need to review the deployment of these agents in terms of allotment of zones, we look at it that probably the allotment was done in a haphazard way we need to look at that and we need to distribute it more equitably.”
After winning the elections on March 7 and assuming office the following day, a questionable transaction was approved. Wagner says that about fifteen thousand dollars of that transaction are unaccounted for.
Bernard Wagner, Mayor of Belize City: “After winning the election on March 7th we noted this particular accounts payable which was done on March 8th, one day after we winning the election for some reason or the other this payment seemed to have been accelerated. 39 loads of hard core materials- $23,400. 32 loads of haul in- $24,000. Ten culverts, seven culverts for a grand total of $59,600. I want you to note keenly the date 8th March. Why was there such a rush to process this payment? So when I assumed office I immediately halted this payment here because I wasn’t sure because it says Sanker Street payment to one Gilbert Franklin to be utilized on Sanker Street rehabilitation. No attachment on this invoice, we were unable to verify if these materials actually reached that street so I asked our works manager to go to that street, measure the street and give me an estimation in his view of what the value of material is that went on that street and I have here his report and you note his report is dated 5th of April, this was when he brought it back to me and he is saying here ‘Mr.Mayor I did my estimation and the value of the material there is around $44,000 so approximately $15,000 unaccounted for- why was this payment accelerated on the 8th day of March. I’ll leave it up to you good guys to do the research.”
The transition team was led by Joe Coye.