PDP mayors roll out 2022 agenda
By John McPhaul
Puerto Rico Mayors Association (AAPR by its Spanish initials) President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, along with Comerío Mayor Josian Santiago, Salinas Mayor Karilyn Bonilla and Vega Baja Mayor Marcos Cruz Molina, presented the AAPR’s 2022 Work Plan on Monday.
“During this new year 2022 we will continue working on fundamental issues related to municipalities, focusing on the pressing needs of our mayors,” Hernández Ortiz said at a press conference. “Today we present this Work Plan to the country, which will be executed by the Association to give continuity to all sectors through the work committees that we have created.”
He said that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the participation of the municipalities, he proposed turning the municipalities into providers for the Department of Health (DS) through the Municipal Tracking Offices and developing an advisory system from the AAPR to maximize the use of federal funds in the municipalities.
“We have a plan at the enrollment level to face the pandemic; Bill 936, from representative Juan José Santiago Nieves, is also pending, under the Municipal Autonomy, Decentralization and Regionalization Committee, which seeks to create the Municipal Office of Public Health and Epidemiology,” Hernández Ortiz said. “Given this issue, the input of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is important as is the development of proposals through funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).”
The municipalities will continue with the work on the agenda for the administration of vaccines and COVID-19 tests, in addition to the education work in the fixed centers, he said. A meeting on the pandemic with the island health secretary is pending before the start of classes.
Given the issue of reconstruction and work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the issue inherited from last year is that the mitigation funds are not being made accessible to the municipalities “and during this year we will be collaborating with the municipalities so that they have all their documents up to date and that in the case of the Revolving Funds, that the borrowing margin of the municipalities is not affected,” Cruz Molina said. “On compliance with Community Development (CDBG) funds, we are concerned about whether a fair deal is being done. With this particular topic we will provide additional information in the coming weeks.”
Regarding the issue of education, the Comerío mayor said that “as an Association, we have maintained communication with teachers’ unions and in this new year 2022 we seek to continue effective communication with the appointed Secretary of the Department of Education, Eliezer Ramos Parés, so that they take into consideration the social realities of each municipality for the determinations made regarding the beginning of virtual or face-to-face classes.”
“We have requested an urgent meeting with Ramos because we understand that the municipalities have different needs,” Santiago said. “There are schools that are ready and others that are not ready to start. The priority is to maintain an effective degree of sanitation security to keep our students and school staff safe.”
Among the groups, the Fiscal Stability Committee, chaired by Salinas Mayor Karilyn Bonilla, stands out with the goal of handling a transcendent issue for the 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico, where several strategies have been outlined that have already been presented to the leaders of the legislative bodies for their development.
“Among the most important issues on fiscal stability are the alternatives for facing the economic challenges of Puerto Rico, amending the fiscal plan and maintaining the Equalization Fund, which is a mechanism for offering services to citizens,” added Hernández Ortiz, who is the mayor of Villalba. “Tax autonomy was also taken as a tool for the generation of new sources of income, which require attention and legislative action, as well as decentralization and the creation of consortiums.”