Budget cut won’t undermine Baguio’s Covid-19 response

BAGUIO CITY – Mayor Benjamin Magalong on Monday said Baguio City has to be prudent on its expenditures except for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response as the 2021 budget has been cut by PHP300 million.
Magalong said the city’s approved PHP1.9 -billion budget for 2021 is lower by PHP300 million versus the 2020 fiscal budget of the city.
“That is a big difference in available funds for this year,” Magalong said.
He said that while this year’s budget is lower, the city’s Covid-19 response will continue.
Magalong said the city will not delay its investment in health especially with Covid-19 still plaguing the city and the world.
He said the Health Services Offices tops the department with the biggest fund getting 15 percent of the city’s budget. Social services is top 2 in the fiscal budget.
The mayor said the city continues to hire nurses on job order status to man the Covid-19 isolation and quarantine facilities.
Magalong said the city government-managed isolation and quarantine facility is currently at 650 beds which is being increased to 1,000 beds by end of January. Services and basic supplies of patients at the city-managed facilities are provided free to the patients and subsidized by the local government.
“We are preparing for the possible surge in cases as projected due to the holidays and the new strain of Covid-19 which is more contagious,” he said.
Magalong also mentioned that the budget cut will not affect the aggressive contact tracing effort with several polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits donated, allowing the city government to pursue testing of direct contacts of positive patients.
He said the city has to make do with limitations in expenditures considering the expected PHP150 to PHP180 million shortfall computed on the projected tax collection for 2021 which is based on last year’s revenues.
The city government finance committee saw the bulk of the predicted shortfall in locally-generated income from the city’s share in the operation of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) amounting to PHP117 million and the business taxes of local entrepreneurs who continue to experience financial difficulties due to lack of tourist-clients.
The capacity to pay by residents is another issue the city government is looking into as regards tax collection.
Magalong said with the belt-tightening, all departments under the city government implemented an across the board cut by as much as 20 percent.
The cut will be made possible by holding in abeyance the implementation of earlier programmed renovations and purchases of new equipment as well as the hiring of personnel.
“There will be no recruitment of entry positions. Wala muna (not now) especially with the management audit still ongoing to streamline the manpower resource of the city government,” he said.
Magalong said that for 2021, expenses will be limited to those urgently needed aside from the regular expense to continue providing services to the public, including the Covid-19 response.
Earlier, city treasurer Alex Cabarrubias said the city government projected to have a PHP220 million share from the PEZA but only received PHP103 million.
Cabarrubias also said that the city could have had a bigger budget shortfall but the updating of the fair market value of real properties in the city is expected to give a little reprieve to the local government’s financial turbulence.
The official said the city has yet to receive about PHP110 million from the real property taxes of 2020 and with the updated fair market value of the real properties, the city hopes to get an additional PHP51 million.
Cabarrubias said the effect of the pandemic on the economy in 2020 has been enormous and its impact on tax collection will be known only this year because the taxes due to the city will be computed based on the gross receipts of the businesses where the sales are obviously down and the capacity to pay of the residents affected.
He underscored that taxes are the lifeblood of the government and the people should be mindful of their obligations to the city by immediately settling the same.
He also said taxes are plowed back to the people in terms of high-impact development projects and enhanced delivery of basic services. **By Liza Agoot, PNA

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