Hatzor Mayor Says Town on Brink of Collapse as City Workers Protest

Schools in the Galilee town of Hatzor Haglilit will be closed today, due to municipal workers' escalating protests over the nonpayment of their last two months' salaries.

Most municipal employees have been striking for the last week and a half. Yesterday, some 150 workers also blocked the Hatzor intersection and clashed with police.

Also yesterday, Mayor Shimon Suissa declared a state of emergency in the town, saying it was no longer possible for it to function. The town's financial crisis has created a situation that is downright hazardous, he said, with dangerous trees not being cut down and religious council workers saying they will no longer bury the dead.

Municipal officials claim the crisis stems from years of cuts in the so-called "balancing grants" that the town receives from the central government. These grants are meant to cover chronic deficits in towns whose tax base is insufficient to fully fund essential services.

However, the municipal opposition claims that the real problem is the city government's excessive allocations to the mayor's ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Six Bedouin mayors to protest

Meanwhile, Bedouin towns in the Negev say they are also on the verge of collapse, and at a press conference in Be'er Sheva yesterday, six Bedouin mayors announced that they would begin protests tomorrow.

Inter alia, they plan to block key intersections throughout the south and barricade themselves inside the Interior Ministry.

Rahat Mayor Fayez Abu Saiban, for instance, said that his town has a deficit of NIS 48 million and can no longer afford to collect trash or pay its workers.

"We were asked by the Interior Ministry to prepare a recovery program in January 2009," Abu Saiban said. "We prepared a plan that included firing workers. But for five months now, it has been sitting in the Interior Ministry - and we have no money for even the most minimal things."

"We live on the balancing grants, this must not be forgotten," added Omar Abu Muamar, head of the Segev Shalom Regional Council. "The shameless cut of 40 percent [in these grants] means shutting down the local authorities. It's not connected to management. Government ministries are simply turning the local authorities into criminals."