Israel's State Comptroller Slams Lod's Council for Failed Handling of Tax Collection, Projects and Crime

Comptroller says situation in city has not improved despite getting NIS 250 million under three government plans since 2000.

The situation in Lod has not improved after nearly 12 years of being run by an Interior Ministry-appointed council, says the 2012 State Comptroller’s report. In fact, the report pointed out malfunctions at all levels of municipal activity: infrastructure, education, social services, crime, personal safety and fiscal management. Even the three government plans approved in the decade ending in 2010 did not improve the city’s dire situation.

Some of the budgets for the Ofek plan in 2000 were never transferred and the Prime Minister’s Office failed to establish a mechanism that would supervise the project’s implementation as required. The 2002 Lod Rehabilitation project failed as well, either because promised budgets were never transferred or the municipality failed to fully utilize them. The last plan for the strengthening and development of Lod (2010) was too general and did not achieve its goals.

Between 2006 and 2010, Lod received huge grants totaling NIS 250 million to balance its budget and cover its debts, but these grants did little to improve the situation. The report determines that the municipality received grants, but failed to improve its tax collection system. Debts stemming from failure to pay municipal taxes were never collected, and the municipality failed to demand taxes for thousands of assets in its jurisdiction. At the end of 2009, residents’ debts from the preceding decade reached NIS 500 million.

As Haaretz revealed in February, the municipality received development grants but failed to utilize a large part of them, leading to severe deterioration in the services offered to residents. “Many streets are neglected… as are city parks, some of them memorial parks. Public funds were wasted… all the neighborhoods look neglected, especially the Arab neighborhoods: whole areas lack paved roads, sidewalks, lighting or sewage systems,” says the comptroller’s report.

The State Comptroller went on to detail endless anomalies. The municipality received budgets to build squares, but the planning took too long and was carried out without data on traffic volume. Even today, three years after the money was received; only two of the five squares have been built. “The Lod municipality acted ineffectively to build the squares and this testifies to the municipal apparatus’ inability to tackle infrastructure projects in an efficient and professional manner,” said the report.

The municipality received funding for 10 new posts in its engineering department that were necessary for dealing with infrastructure, but the positions were never filled. The comptroller noted that the quality of municipality personnel, especially in mid- to high-level executive positions, is inadequate and points to numerous cases of nepotism.

The report is unequivocal in its assessment of the functioning of the city's appointed committee: “Lod has been suffering for years now from mismanagement, lack of enforcement and high crime rates, and has to compete with more attractive settlements established around it… the failures of the municipality officials caused the delay of city projects and reflect a deep gap between the municipality’s declarations and its deeds.”

Long passages of the report deal with municipal treasurer Zion Hadar, who was the subject of a Haaretz investigative report. The comptroller explicitly mentions that in its reply to an Interior Ministry budget review, the municipality presented imprecise data and claimed that certain deficiencies were fixed when in fact, they were not.

Regarding the city’s crime rate, the report stated that several police operations led to a decrease in drug-dealing, but despite fewer shooting incidents, the number of murders in Lod increased from four in 2009 to nine in 2010. In comparison to the national crime rate, there was a slight decrease in 2010. The comptroller slammed the police for failing to solve 16 of the 23 murder cases in Lod between 2007 and 2011.

The Lod Municipality responded that the municipality attaches much importance to the report and had submitted detailed responses to the draft report. “The municipality, which ended 2012 with a balanced budget for the first time in decades, has acted, is acting and will do all possible to correct the deficiencies mentioned in the report,” it added.