ULA Opposes Proposal to Fund Religious Councils

Relly Sa'ar
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Relly Sa'ar

The Union of Local Authorities has come out against a government plan under which the municipalities would foot the bill for 60 percent of religious councils' budgets.

The local authorities also oppose the government deciding on the total sum that the religious councils are to receive.

"The government is ignoring the local authorities with regard to the religious councils," union head Adi Eldar wrote in a letter that he sent to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Rosh Hashanah eve.

A year ago, the government appointed a committee to recommend how the religious councils be budgeted in light of their heavy debts and difficulties in paying employee wages, Eldar said.

Eldar said that the committee's draft proposals had not been sent to the local authorities union, as promised.

According to the Economic Arrangements Law passed two months ago, Eldar said, the government will provide 40 percent of the religious councils' budgets and the local authorities will fund the other 60 percent.

"This is a decision by which we cannot abide," he said. Since the government is ignoring the union's position, the local authorities cannot accept the decision, he said.

`Faulty decision'

In a letter to acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Ashdod Mayor Zvi Zilker pointed to his city as an example of why the decision is faulty. In the past five years, he said, Ashdod's population has grown by 18 percent. During this period, however, the municipality increased the religious council's budget by 32 percent.

"The religious council was not satisfied with that and asked that its budget be doubled," Zilker said in his letter. He said the councils would now try to be more efficient if their budgets are promised in advance in this way.

The government pointed out in its decision that the religious councils have been in crisis since 2002. "One of the main reasons for the crisis is the failure of the local authorities to pass on funds to the religious councils in their areas," the government stated in explaining its decision.

During his term of office, former interior minister Avraham Poraz tried to persuade the prime minister to cancel the autonomous nature of the religious councils. He proposed that they be turned instead into a division of the local authorities. Poraz was unsuccessful.

A response from the religious councils was not available last night.

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