Mayors Assn. discusses agenda for new year
Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz
By THE STAR STAFF
The Puerto Rico Mayors Association met late last week at the Villalba Fine Arts Center to outline the 2023 work agenda for the island municipalities led by mayors affiliated with the Popular Democratic Party (PDP).
“Our primary mission remains the same, to ensure services to our communities and defend the resources to fulfill that sacred obligation that is public service,” said Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz. “It is already recognized and accepted by all that municipalities are the first line of service to communities, and that is evident every day, but particularly when there are emergency situations and natural disasters. In this year 2023 we reaffirm our commitment and we want to share our work agenda, in order to broaden the discussion and so that everyone is part of the process.”
In 2023, the Mayors Association will concentrate on efforts related to the Essential Services Fund, such as through amendments to the Fiscal Plan, in order to guarantee funds for services to citizens. Added to this is the oversight of funds for improvements to public schools currently in use, particularly those affected by earthquakes in southern Puerto Rico, and the effective use of closed schools.
“This dynamic of responsible control will also continue to be applied to the issue of the country’s energy system, because in each municipality there are situations that must be managed, such as the subject of street lights, which directly affects public safety,” Hernández Ortiz said.
The Mayors Association will also work on a plan for the decentralization of resources and services, with the purpose of ensuring that central government assets are used more efficiently, in direct collaboration with municipalities. That particular issue is tied to the Municipal Reengineering and Efficiency Plan.
“In this regard, it is important to point out that citizens constantly learn through the media about the million-dollar allocations that are made for particular cases, but from there until they can be accessed, it is a very complicated process that takes time, sometimes too much time,” Hernández Ortiz said. “What the mayors have demanded and will continue to demand is that there is reasonable flexibility in order to advance the processes.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which at times seemed to have been overcome, is an issue that continues to be a challenge around the world, adding to the importance of vaccination and diagnostic tests. Given this reality, the PDP mayors agreed to remain in support of the Municipal Tracking System to address cases of COVID-19 and to highlight the importance of municipal public health offices in the island’s 78 towns.
“Beyond the pandemic, an Office of Public Health can and should be allowed to work efficiently with other health conditions of high prevalence in Puerto Rico, such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma, among others,” Hernández Ortiz said. “We know that we have made great progress in prevention and municipalities are part of the solution.”
During Friday’s meeting, the mayors set aside time in the necessary analysis to propose substantial changes in the Municipal Revenue Collections Center (CRIM), with the purpose of carrying out a the complete restructuring of its operations so that it responds to the needs of the municipalities and so that the collection is efficient and measurable through clear metrics. The CRIM theme was also added to the proposals for healthy public administration measures and their implementation.
The working group also approved the initiative to provide services at the central level of the Mayors Association so that municipalities, regardless of their size, can access federal funds and programs on renewable energy and community development, among others. In fact, Hernández Ortiz confirmed his attendance at the 91st edition of the winter conference of the United States Mayors Association, which will be held in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 17-20, with the participation of senior Biden administration officials such as Energy the Secretary Jennifer Granholm, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Ambassador Nina Lucine Hachigian, the first special representative for city and state diplomacy.