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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayors call on governor to free up promised $1 million to each municipality

Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, at center

By John McPhaul

Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz called on Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Sunday to comply with the promise to finally allocate $1 million to each municipality on the island to meet part of the expenses and commitments made after the passage of Hurricane Fiona last year.

“Recall that on November 15, 2022, the Senate approved, on the last day of the legislative work of the fourth regular session, House Joint Resolution 387 to allocate to the ‘Municipal Emergency Assistance Fund’ the sum of $78,000,000 for the municipalities of the country, at a rate of $1 million for each town, to cover expenses related to the response and recovery after Hurricane Fiona,” said Hernández Ortiz, who is the mayor of Villalba. “On January 5, 2023, Pierluisi signed RCC 387 into law. More than a month later, that allocation has not been made, and the 78 municipalities are waiting.”

Hernández Ortiz pointed out that the municipalities need the allocation to be able to finish the current fiscal year without problems.

“It is recognized by all components of the local and federal governments that municipalities have been led into a fiscal crisis following the elimination of the Equalization Fund,” he said. “During the emergency of Hurricane Fiona we had to take out where there was none to address the situation and fulfill our obligation to the communities.”

On Feb. 3, the Mayors Association membership -- mayors affiliated with the Popular Democratic Party -- met with island Secretary of State Omar Marrero Díaz to discuss various issues, from the Essential Services Fund to an update on the efforts related to the reconstruction following hurricanes Maria (in September 2017) and Fiona. On the issue of the allocation of $1 million to the municipalities, Marrero Díaz said the measure was in the hands of the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

“Given this information, it is up to the governor to give the appropriate follow-up to the [oversight board], not as a routine issue, but as an emergency,” Hernández Ortiz said. “The call we are making is not only for us, the partner municipalities, but also for the ones [affiliated with the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation, which groups mayors affiliated with the New Progress Party]. This is a measure that will benefit all 78 municipalities and every day that passes goes against the stability of the municipal institution.”

Arroyo Mayor Eric Bachier said “that $1 million would help us match the 10% required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work on the damages caused by Hurricane Fiona and buy equipment for the operation of the landfill.” Comerío Mayor Josian Santiago expressed himself in similar terms.

“In our case of the mountain region, the condition of rural roads, the only access to hundreds of families in our [towns], is well known,” he said. “The deterioration of these roads continues to increase due to the heavy runoff of the rains that even tear off the asphalt layer. This situation requires prompt attention and that allocation is the best alternative for prompt repair. We all know that damage claims through FEMA funds take years to achieve.”

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