Dimona, Arad Mayors Threaten Masada Sit-in'

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen and his counterpart from Arad, Motti Brill, yesterday announced they plan to barricade themselves, along with employees of their respective councils, at the top of Masada from tomorrow morning.

The protest is aimed to draw attention to what the two mayors describe at the foot-dragging by the Interior Ministry and the Tamar Regional Council in redrawing the municipal boundaries and dividing up the municipal property taxes raised by the Tamar Regional Council.

The Tamar Regional Council is one of the largest in the country, but also one of the least populated. Some 1,300 people occupy around 1,719 square kilometers, along the eastern coast of the Dead Sea. It is also one of the richest local councils in the country, since some of the largest and most profitable factories - which pay high rates of municipal taxes - are located on the authority's land.

Among the factories which pay taxes to the Tamar Regional Council are the Dead Sea works, the hotels at the tourist reserves, the nuclear research center, and the Rotem industrial zone.

In stark contrast, the adjacent cities of Dimona and Arad, which lie in the heart if the Tamar Regional Authority, are suffering from a severe lack of industrial zones and from low income from property tax.

According to figures compiled by the two mayors, Dimona raises an average of NIS 732 a year from each resident for property tax, while the Tamar Regional Council raises NIS 50,000 from each resident. A further example lies in the arts budget of the respective council: in Dimona, the budget is NIS 18 per resident, while in Tamar, it is NIS 1,800.

Absurd situation

According to Cohen and Brill, this is particularly absurd given that the vast majority of those employed in the industrial zones on Tamar's land live in Dimona and Arad.

They are demanding, therefore, the annulment of the Tamar Regional Council, and for the land and income from taxes to be divided up between Dimona, Arad and the Central Arava Regional Council.

In the past, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, the state comptroller and a professional committee appointed by the interior minister have all attempted to address the problem, and all have recommended redividing the boundaries of the entire region.

The Tamar Regional Council has been fighting this possibility, and instead wants the current situation to be left untouched. There is currently a proposal, waiting on the table of Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, calling for the nuclear research facility to be transferred to Dimona and for the income from the Rotem industrial zone to be divided between Dimona and Arad.

An Interior Ministry spokesman, however, yesterday said the plan has been put on hold because of the delay tactics being employed by the Tamar Regional Council, which did not forward the requisite data to the Interior Minister until a few days ago.

For Cohen and Brill, however, this plan is not enough, and they are demanding the complete dissolution of the Tamar Regional Council, the transfer of all municipal services to Arad, Dimona or the Central Arava Regional Council, and the division of the industrial zones between the two towns.

No favors

"I am not coming with my cap in hand," said Cohen yesterday, "and I am not asking for favors. Our demands stem from a very real sense that the injustice must be rectified. My parents built the phosphate plants and my children, and Motti's children, are not able to enjoy the benefits of the property tax it generates."

The mayors announced that, from tomorrow, they and their employees would barricade themselves at the top of Masada, from where they would continue to run their cities. "We will only come down when the problem is solved," they vowed.

Tamar chair blasts `demagoguery'

Dov Litbinov, chairman of the Tamar Regional Council, rejects the mayors' arguments.

"The figures and the arguments put forward by Brill and Cohen are demagoguery," he claimed yesterday. "Most of the money we raise is plowed straight back into the hotels and the factories in the form of services we provide. For example, they remove huge quantities of garbage from the hotels on the Dead Sea. If the new plan is adopted, the tourism area will deteriorate, the hotels will close and the workers will end up on the doorstep of the welfare departments in Arad and Dimona. We are prepared to enter into serious negotiations on the issue of borders, but Tamar cannot solve the problems of all the regional authorities in the area."

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