After years of discussion, Bat Yam is expected to merge with Tel Aviv-Jaffa into a single municipal entity. The consolidation is expected to begin early in 2018, with completion anticipated two years later.
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Over the past several weeks, representatives from both cities have held talks with Interior Ministry Director General Mordechai Cohen and Finance Ministry officials.
Interior Minister Arye Dery has met with the mayors of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Bat Yam, Ron Huldai and Yossi Bachar, respectively. According to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, an announcement on the merger is expected within two months.
The meetings came after a committee established by the Interior Ministry two years ago recommended the merger in a report issued in December.
The committee, headed by former Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, was established to investigate the distribution of revenues among cities in the greater Tel Aviv area. Bat Yam had claimed it was getting less than its fair share.
Dery said he would support the merger as long as all of the parties involved, including the Finance Ministry, reached agreement and collaborated in the unification process.
The main obstacles at this stage are Bat Yam’s demand that its residents be guaranteed appropriate representation in the partnership, and Tel Aviv’s demand for a special allocation of 2.5 billion shekels ($665 million) over 10 years, in part to cover Bat Yam’s 2 billion shekel deficit.
“Bat Yam’s representation in the joint municipal government is critical,” said a Bat Yam official who requested anonymity.
“It’s about the residents’ ability to continue to have a say in their own lives. A metropolis must give space to the various communities living in it and provide for their different needs. For example, the Jewish Sabbath may be kept differently in Tel Aviv and Bat Yam,” the official said.
An official said that in the initial discussions about the union, Tel Aviv spoke of “one city, one government,” while Bat Yam wanted to maintain an independent city council after the consolidation.
“Both sides have moved on from those points, but there are still obstacles and suspicions to remove, even if it’s broadly agreed on that it’s the right thing to do,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both cities agree that the union, if it is carried out, must be put into motion at the beginning of next year, in order to allow political parties to prepare for elections in the consolidated city at the end of 2018.