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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayors Assn: Gutted funding in fiscal plan will force towns to cut essential services this summer

Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz warned Monday that further reductions in funding to municipalities, as contained in the 2023 Fiscal Plan, will force them to cut essential services in July.

“If this continues, dozens of municipalities would have to eliminate services such as garbage collection, public safety, emergency management, and sports, cultural, and health initiatives, at the beginning of the 2023-2024 fiscal year, on July 1 of this year,” Hernández Ortiz said.

The entire island must be clear, the Mayors Association president said, that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia did not fulfill his promise to maintain the allocation of the Equalization Fund, or create the Essential Services Fund, nor has he paid a penny for health services.

“This represents close to $500 million,” said Hernández Ortiz, who is the mayor of Villalba. “We ask the governor to act on his word concerning ASES [the Spanish acronym for the Health Insurance Administration], as well as the allocation of $1 million for all the municipalities to continue post-Hurricane Fiona recovery work.”

The Mayors Association groups mayors affiliated with the Popular Democratic Party.

The assembled mayors formally requested a meeting with the governor as a matter of urgency.

Hernández Ortiz asked central government officials to set aside $150 million of about $300 million approved in the Fiscal Plan, which has not been distributed, to guarantee essential services for the next five years so that towns can carry out structural changes, and for the creation of new collection alternatives to replace the $350 million that has already been taken away from the 78 municipalities.

“While all this was happening, the municipalities paid the bondholders one year in advance,” he said. “That is a reality that not everyone knows. The municipalities have made great adjustments in all sectors.”

The Mayors Association membership also insisted that the government begin to decentralize, starting, for example, with education, medical emergencies and roads.

“Everyone in Puerto Rico accepts that the municipalities are the first line of service to the population, not only in times of emergency but also throughout the year,” Hernández Ortiz said. “However, for years, the state government and the fiscal oversight board have been cutting our funds from many items. They have already exceeded $350 million in cuts. With this new fiscal year, they intend to shut down municipalities and eliminate services to the citizenry.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Oversight and Management Board on Monday authorized municipalities to access the Emergency Reserve to deal with the weekend flooding in many towns caused by heavy rain, including in the island’s eastern region.

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