Seares: Rama government may tap sources other than increase of real property taxes. Minority leader Kons Archival asks mayor’s secretary Rosell for ‘other ways’ the City can meet 2023 P50 billion budget without raising taxes.

CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Councilors Nestor Archival and Noel Wenceslao, and Secretary to the Mayor Atty. Collin Rosell. (Photos from their Facebook pages)
CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Councilors Nestor Archival and Noel Wenceslao, and Secretary to the Mayor Atty. Collin Rosell. (Photos from their Facebook pages)

WILL the Barug administration led by Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama be able to fund its P50 billion budget for the year 2023 even without increasing real property taxes?

ROSELL REPORT. Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. -- in a resolution filed for consideration in the City Council’s regular session Wednesday, February 22, 2023 -- wants the Sanggunian to request Collin Rosell, the mayor’s secretary, to submit a report within 30 days listing “other possible ways that the City Government can attain” the budget goal.

Archival said he was prompted by Atty. Rosell’s statement, published February 14 in SunStar, that the City can raise the needed money for this year’s huge budget, despite delay in revision of real property taxes.

Last February 6, the mayor notified the Sanggunian he directly vetoed Ordinance #138-2922, declaring it outside the local legislature’s authority and prejudicial to public interest. “Ultra vires,” Rama said, because it didn’t reflect the current fair market value of real properties in the city. And prejudicial to public interest because it would frustrate his third-full-term mission of making the City “Singapore-like.”

TAPPING OTHER SOURCES. Other signals that the City may rely on other sources of revenue following the veto, at least while the version of the increase the mayor wants is not yet submitted and approved by the Sanggunian:

[1] Councilor Noel G. Wenceslao, chairman of the City Council committee on budget and finance, told me Monday, February 20, “the executive has already started tax mapping and revalidation of tax declarations, as well as collection of delinquent taxes.” Revision is only one of the sources of tax revenue, Wenceslao said.

[2] City Treasurer Mare Vae Reyes was reported last February 14 she would “strengthen the collection efficiency” of her office and the city assessor’s office. They have strategies “to intensify collection without relying on the vetoed ordinance,” she told news media.

NOT GIVING UP, NO WAY. Do those declarations mean the Rama administration is giving up on the revision that will shoot up the rates of taxes?

Certainly not, if one concludes from Mayor Rama’s statement, in his February 12 press-con announcing the veto, that a new ordinance will be proposed. Councilor Wenceslao said Monday the Local Finance Committee will introduce a new real property tax ordinance.

Central to the Rama government’s push for an increase is that the revision of rates is two-decades-long overdue and it needs the money for its much-touted “Singapore-like Cebu City” thrust.

The mayor didn’t get what he wanted in the first attempt. Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera summed it up thus last February 13: “(He wants) double the amount approved...the appraisal rates to the max under the Local Government Code.” The City Council “only approved increase in market values and no change in the assessment level... He wants the max in the assessment level,” said Pesquera. Councilor Rey Gealon, chairman of the committee on laws, said they really gave the mayor too little (“gamay ra gyud among gihatag”).

THE NUMBERS. Without the ordinance, the P50 billion target appears unreachable.

But the way Secretary Rosell and Treasurer Reyes sounded in recent talks with media, not having the tax increases is no big deal, which tends to support the theory of early opposers such as Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos and Archival that efficient collection could be the answer. Even if the tax rates are hiked, the treasurer’s office may not be able to meet the collection goal, given its poor showing in the past two to three years -- a perception of the two councilors, which Rama’s key officials now seek to disprove.

Treasurer Reyes qualified raising the P50 billion as a hope, which one may assess as to “doability” mainly from the numbers: P46.9 billion collection goal, with P44.5 billion from tax revenues and P2.4 billion from non-tax revenues.

LESS RUSH. Compared to the almost frenetic pace in having the tax increase ordinance approved by the City Council last December 30, 2022, there seems to be no more rush for the roll-out of the new version the mayor prefers.

The mood seems to be “wait for it.” Councilor Wenceslao said it will be “re-introduced.”

NO VETO OVERRIDE. Obviously, there’s no plan for the City Council to override the veto. Earlier, last February 13, Majority Floor Leader Pesquera said they have the capacity to do it but “we’re still evaluating our options.” She hasn’t answered to my question last Monday if some compromise has been reached between the mayor and the councilors who, to recall, held “bicam” meetings in the run-up to its approval.

Minority chief Archival said then he wouldn’t seek the veto override. He and his BOPK colleagues won’t succeed even if they decide to, unless they join forces with enough councilors from the Barug majority to amass a two-thirds vote.

While Pesquera may still be studying options, which actually are limited unless the majority councilors show open hostility to the administration, Councilor Wenceslao told me, “We will study (the new proposal) whether it is acceptable to the City Council.”


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