Kiryat Shmona Community Center, Library to Shut Down Over Unpaid NIS 9M Debt

Education Ministry and Interior Ministry will cover the community center's debts to its staff and suppliers.

The Kiryat Shmona community center, library and municipal auditorium will all be shutting their doors now that all efforts to save the debt-ridden institutions have failed, the Nazareth District Court ruled yesterday.

Two months ago, a solution seemed to be close, but when the court saw that none of the proposed steps had been taken, it ordered the institutions placed in receivership.

kiryat shmona - Dror Artzi - May 30 2011
Dror Artzi

"It looks like the municipality doesn't care whether there is cultural life here," said Kiryat Shmona resident Moshe Strul.

The community center, which operates the library and auditorium and runs various activities, was first threatened with closure about a year ago, when it said it was unable to pay NIS 9 million in debts. A temporary receiver was appointed and the library was closed, but it was reopened briefly after Bank Hapoalim donated NIS 400,000.

However, the other debt-ridden institutions didn't receive any donations, so in February the receiver, Ehud Raz, announced that the community center would be closed. The decision was approved by the Nazareth District Court.

A month later, the Kiryat Shmona municipality said the Education Ministry and Interior Ministry would cover the community center's debts to its staff and suppliers, as per an agreement reached between Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

The court halted the receivership proceedings, but according to Raz, "apparently nothing was done" to save the community center.

The library will close its doors on June 15 and the auditorium will close at the end of June. Bank Hapoalim told Haaretz it was "looking into a number of alternatives to operate the library."

Raz has been working over the past year to streamline operations of the community center so it could pay the NIS 9 million it owes - NIS 4.5 million to some 100 employees and an equal amount to suppliers.

It has emerged that for the past seven years the center has not payed into pension funds for its employees, as required by law.

The community center runs clubs for the blind and the developmentally disabled, music classes, and after-school and other activities.

City officials said most of they center's activities have been taken over by the municipality during the past year, and that the city will also take over the auditorium. Now it remains only to find a solution to the library, officials said.

However, residents said the city-sponsored activities were quite meager.

The Interior Ministry said it had not committed to covering the center's debts.

"The community centers are not the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, but rather the Education Ministry," the ministry said in a statement. "To the best of our knowledge, the Education Ministry conditioned its support of the community center on the transfer of funding from other ministries. To the best of our knowledge, the Education Ministry did not transfer the funding."

The Kiryat Shmona municipality said the community center was a separate entity with its own board. The municipality confirmed that the Education Ministry had indeed conditioned its funding on money received from the Interior Ministry, but said the Interior Ministry had turned down the Education Ministry's request.

The municipality said it hoped the Interior Ministry would reconsider. It also said it was working with the owners of the buildings in which the center operated to ensure that they would continue to be used for the benefit of residents.