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‘Tough times ahead’ for city; 2014 budget passed

Get ready for a “financial drought” next year, former mayor and congressman Tomas Osmeña warned Cebu City’s 80 barangays.

As he gave this forecast, the Cebu City Council whose majority bloc is controlled by Osmeña yesterday approved a P5.9 billion budget for 2014 with deep cuts in the original funding request of Mayor Michael Rama for P10.5 billion.

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Osmeña repeated his accusation that the city government was financially mismanaged and short of cash.

He cited City Hall’s difficulty collecting advance payments from SM Prime Holdings and Filinvest Land Inc. as indications of the city’s “near-bankruptcy.”

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“They can promise you many things, but look at the actual cash. The money is gone,” said Osmeña who was seated beside Tristan Las Marias, Filinvest vice president for Visayas and Mindanao, during the assembly of Barangay Councilors League of the Philippines (BCLP) last Tuesday evening.

SM is building a giant mall and Seaside City while Filinvest Land Inc. is building condominiums and a mixed-use development as a joint venture (JV) with Cebu City in the South Road Properties (SRP).

Rama met with Filinvest top officials in Manila to press them to pay about P400 million as the city’s joint venture share.

Rama refused to talk of his Manila visit when asked by reporters yesterday.

“I do not want to talk yet until things are clear. Until (the negotiations are) over, it’s not yet over,” the mayor said.

Only one Rama ally, Councilor Hanz Abella, objected to the passage of the P5.9 billion annual budget.

The amount is almost half the amount Rama asked for but it is still P700 million more than this year’s P5.2 billion budget.

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“I would like to reserve my reaction until I see the document (approved budget),” Rama said when sought for comment.

The mayor said that for now, he just wanted to be happy and enjoy the holiday season.

Councilor Margot Osmeña, the council’s budget committee chairperson, the 2014 budget approved by the legislature was “the output of a very candid, practical, realistic and transparent discussion.”

She said next year’s budget could be funded from “realizable” revenues such as the P415 million in projected sales of disposed assets.

Osmeña said they are wary about the P5 billion revenue estimate of the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO).

She said the P415 million or less than half of that amount is feasible since the treasury failed to hit its P6.4 billion revenue target this year.

As of Nov. 18, the CTO collected only P4.8 billion in revenues.

Councilor Osmeña said the mayor could file supplemental budgets on the items scrapped in the 2014 budget especially if the city sells the lot 8-B at the SRP estimated to cost P5 billion.

The lot is now occupied by the San Pedro Calungsod templete. “But we did not just slash and slash. We also augment where it is deserving,” Osmeña said.

She referred to the council’s approval to increase law enforcers’ monthly allowances from P2,000 this year to P4,000 next year.

They also doubled Rama’s P2 million request for the rehabilitation of barangay health centers.

Rama asked for P186.3 million for the city’s counterpart honorarium for barangay tanods, garbage collectors, street sweepers, lupong tagapamayapa and for the cash assistance of barangay officials which the council also approved.

The former congressman blamed the city’s near “bankruptcy” as the reason for Rama’s failure to give financial aid to the barangays for their projects.

They have not even received this year’s P6.6 million allocation because of funding shortage, he said.

“If it is already bad this year, it will be worst next year,” Osmeña warned barangay officials during the BCLP assembly.

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