A press conference was called on Sept. 12 by Gary Smith, Chief Councillor for the North Abaco District Council, regarding the July 2013 budget cut for North Abaco that totaled 25.2 percent. Smith was joined by Garneth Edgecombe, chairman for Cooper’s Town; and Clyde Cornish, council member.
Besides the budget cut, bills had accumulated for the month of July and the council needed to take care of vendors, so a decision was made to cut back on some employees. Smith noted that there was a misunderstanding that the district itself has taken an approach to cut back people’s salaries after they asked some persons not to return to work until further notice or to work half a day through the month.
“The reality is, we went from $775,000 down to $580,000. We had to make some significant changes to help with our budget,” Smith explained. “We are in negotiation with Central Government to get more funds back, and that is the main reason we have not called a meeting with staff because we wanted to take that approach before speaking with staff.”
Based on what was said to them by Local Government Minister the Hon. V. Alfred Gray, the council members learned that they were cut some 15 percent, with an additional 12 percent cut although that portion of money remains and they can apply for it quarterly.
Although they plan to take the approach of applying for the 12 percent, Smith said there are vendors who can’t wait three months for their funds, so it is a concern. Further, he stated that Central Government needs to know that they cannot call Local Government for anything because they have no funds to help them anymore.
“I don’t want any politician to come to North Abaco, and make the people feel as if the North Abaco District Council had any mismanagement with funds or anything why we were cut some 25.2 percent. It has to be one story; you can’t be all over the place,” Smith argued. “Either we had mismanagement of the funds, and you penalize us, or there isn’t any money, or the 12 percent is still there because there’s too much talks going around.”
To their credit, Smith was confident that they could take anyone around any of the communities, so that they can see for themselves what is being done. According to Smith, the cut back was never justified – they simply went from $775,000 to $580,000. Their monthly allocation of $64,000 went down to $48,000.
“Salaries each month is $47, 800,” Smith disclosed. “When we pay everyone, we have $400 left. We are running now like a third-schedule district when we are a second-schedule district. Our town committees don’t have any money.
“For the persons who are spreading rumours, the North Abaco District had no reason to cut anyone’s salary. We had sufficient money and were working with what we had. Central Government is not taking over garbage collection, so there are two [dumpsites] with garbage almost in the road: Wood Cay and Treasure Cay. We can’t send anyone with a tractor to push garbage in because we don’t have money.”
Another issue is that if North Abaco receives funds quarterly, they stand to lose their discount at places like Standard Hardware if they can’t pay by the 20th of every month. Smith said they were honestly under the impression that their budget would not be touched because Central Abaco was technically not cut and only had responsibilities transferred.
With a district that runs from Crown Haven to Leisure Lee, the North Abaco District Council also has the responsibility of paying utility bills for docking facilities in those areas. There are docks in Crown Haven, Fox Town, Mount Hope, Wood Cay, Cedar Harbour, Cooper’s Town, Fire Road, and Treasure Cay.
“This is a very productive district,” he boasted, “and we were hoping to construct a building for the fire truck, so we are negotiating outside of local government. Then you have persons affected seriously by Bahamasair not flying to Treasure Cay anymore. This is not the first time they have done this.”