The Mayor, Juan Carlos Benavides, declared a ‘suspension of payments,’ which is more often than not, a prelude to insolvency. This is a highly controversial announcement for the Town Hall to make. Many in the opposition feel, (as well as quite a few Almuñequeros in general), that coming after the huge financial outlay on the Referendum campaign, this is hard to swallow.
Much to the surprise of the opposition parties, the very next day after announcing the suspension of payments, which will affect the salaries of those that work in the Town Hall, the Mayor allegedly departed on a trip to Morocco, delegating mayoral responsibilities to Antonio Díaz.
The reactions have been many, and even a vote of no confidence has been suggested.
Basically, what has to be considered are two conflicting views:
A) That of the Mayor, who puts responsibility on the Junta de Andalucía (and by association, the local PSOE) for having initiated a lengthy legal process that will deny Almuñécar its now prime source of income.
B) That of the local PSOE, which considers that the suspension-of-payments announcement was just a publicity ruse to force the Junta into retracting their case and that the Mayor only has to desist in his allegedly illegal move to use private companies to collect the municipal taxes and sign up again with the provincial authorities.
As for the PP, they issued a statement in which they claimed that the reason that the Town Hall hasn’t got enough money to pay their salaries is because the Mayor had blown vast sums on the Referendum, amongst other things.
They also claimed that it was a foregone conclusion that the provincial authorities were not going to let Almuñécar collect their own taxes because they were using them to finance social services in other towns.
Finally, they claimed that the local PSOE is at the orders of Sevilla (Junta) in its ‘war against Almuñécar.’
Another voice, rattling around out there, is the IU (United Left) who considers that it’s obvious that there isn’t enough money to pay the salaries of the Town Hall personnel because the money is financing 20 over-paid political appointments that are bleeding the municipal coffers. They claim that the Mayor, himself, receives a salary that is far higher than other mayors that govern over even bigger townships, and that his wife gets a handsome salary (40,000 euros?) for a job that nobody actually sees. Their final broadside was that it is shameful that the Mayor should announce a lack of funds to pay the workers when the Town Hall has just approved a ‘million-odd’ budget for hyena cages in the mountain park, Peña Escrita, which neither benefits the town nor can be considered urgent.
So, the situation as it stands really leaves a couple of options open to the Mayor, if he wasn’t to collect the taxes from Almuñécar: use his own staff to do it or use another public body; but what he cannot use is the new arrangement using private companies. The provincial authorities have already informed the Almuñécar Town Hall that if they want to go back to using their services, nobody is going to make it hard for them by making conditions tougher. Does all this mean that you won’t have to pay your taxes? Yeah, right!
The fact is that Almuñécar is using the 2006 budget figures because new ones have not been approved. Furthermore, the last settlement of municipal accounts was in 2005 and the municipal debt even back then stood at 30 million euros. OK, just about every town hall has a debt and the provincial capital is no exception with one of 40 million, but then again, we’re talking about a city with a population of 300,000; not a seaside town of 25,000.
Finally – I hope – one last relevant point: when the provincial authorities collected Almuñécar’s taxes for them, the Town Hall habitually asked for advances – 35, all told, during 2008, adding up to 5,867,540 euros… now that tap has been firmly closed.