Two Councils Spar Over NIS 14 Million in Municipal Taxes

Ramat Negev Regional Council and Mitzpeh Ramon in bitter dispute over revenue entitlements.

The Ramat Negev Regional Council and Mitzpeh Ramon are embroiled in a bitter dispute over entitlement to NIS 14 million in municipal tax revenues, which the development town says could turn it around financially.

The dispute, which has been waging for years, centers on the Shdema army base, the Ramon army base and Nafha Prison, all adjacent to Mitzpeh Ramon. Flora Shoshan, head of the Mitzpeh Ramon local council, argues that the development town is entitled to municipal tax revenues in these areas, whereas the Ramat Negev council counters that it was willing to hand over part of the sum, but it's offer was rejected.

"This is an old story about the inequitable distribution of state lands," says Shoshan. "When I took office about four years ago, I began working with the Ramat Negev council on how to distribute income more equitably and redraw municipal boundaries. There is a social injustice here. It's inconceivable that Ramat Hanegev with 3,000 residents, gets to collect so much municipal tax [arnona] money, and Mitzpeh Ramon is left with nothing." Mitzpeh Ramon, she continues, is unable to balance its budget, even though it manages to collect 90 percent of the municipal taxes it's owed. "We don't have industrial zones that yield income," says Shoshan, "not because of poor management, but because of our remote geographical location. So we need more resources than other towns. The historical injustice that has been done needs to be corrected."

According to Shoshan, the area in dispute is physically closer to Mitzpeh Ramon than to Ramat Negev. The Ramon base is 15 kilometers away from council headquarters, and Nafha prison is 12 kilometers away. "We're talking about bases and a prison which the state built, not the Ramat Negev council," says Shoshan. " More than 500 families with at least one spouse employed in these places live in Mitzpeh."

Shmuel Reifman, head of the Ramat Negev council, had proposed handing over NIS 2.5 million a year to Mitzpeh Ramon for 10 years, but he says the Mitzpeh Ramon local council rejected the offer. Reifman even asked Interior Minister Eli Yishai to have the government transfer another NIS 2.5 million to the Mitzpeh Ramon local council. "Ten million shekels is not going to solve the problems of Mitzpeh Ramon," he says. "That's why I suggested that Interior Minister Eli Yishai initiate a referendum among local residents about the possibility of merging the councils. I strongly favor such a move for the benefit of the Negev and for the benefit of the residents of Mitzpeh Ramon and Ramat Negev." In February, after Yishai visited Mitzpeh Ramon, Shoshan raised the matter with him. A few days later, she asked the ministry to investigate how revenues could be more fairly distributed but says she has yet to receive a response.

"We didn't ask for the entire NIS 14 million shekels, but for at least NIS 10 million," says Shoshan. "I have no problem with merging the councils. This proposal was raised several times by the Mitzpeh Ramon local council but rejected by the Interior Ministry. It could be an excellent solution for the residents of Mitzpeh and Ramat Negev." The Interior Ministry said in response that it is now considering various criteria for dividing up revenues among local authorities. Until these have been finalized, no further action will be taken.