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At plenary, council members urge scuppering Balearic Sea petroleum explorations

Foto ple juny 2016Earlier today the Formentera Council convened its June plenary session. Members unanimously passed a proposal to urge the regional environment ministry in Palma to disqualify Spectrum's overdue environmental impact study on oil and gas exploration in the Balearic Sea. CiF environment councillor Daisee Aguilera explained that, if allowed to go ahead, the activity could take place “a mere 20 kilometres from the Pitiüsa Islands and cover an area of 14,000 square metres”. The Council has requested the project be cancelled. Explaining the Council's stance, Aguilera cited the fact the completed study came due April 20 and the Govern Balear Ministry of Environment's extension on the deadline came a month and a half late.

Plenary members also voted unanimously to pass a joint proposal encouraging “respect and visibility for sexual and gender diversity”. Social welfare councillor Vanessa Parellada thanked all the political groups for backing the proposal, which she described as a way to “show support for the law guaranteeing legal protection for lesbian, gay, transexual, bisexual and intersex individuals, wipe out sex- and gender-based fears and assert the Council's commitment to LGTBI groups.” On that note, it was announced that on June 28, the Council would raise a rainbow pride flag in celebration of World Pride Day.

Excepting a “no” vote from Partido Popular, the day's plenary session brought unanimous approval for a bid to change the official form of address for council members from honorable to senyor (sir) or senyora (madam), a measure aimed at decreasing the divide between elected officials and locals. Unanimous go-ahead was also given to a proposal to draft an official declaration celebrating June 14, national Spanish sign language day.

The vice-president and councillor of the president's office, the tax office and the office of rural affairs, Bartomeu Escandell, addressed plenary members today. Speaking about work in the president's office, Escandell highlighted recent work with the CiF chair to organise and coordinate government and administration operations. “One of the Council's top priorities,” he declared, “is to ensure unity and cohesion in a group of such varied political backgrounds”.

By contrast, Escandell identified the tax office as the “CiF division with the fewest changes under foot”. He claimed a responsible management was behind the success of the Council's budget stabilising efforts. According to the councillor, the yearly budget stands at roughly 22 million euros and the Council is able to earmark money for re-investment, something he called “fundamental for a place like Formentera that lives off of tourism”.

Ca ses Castellones
Councillor Escandell shared his concern over the “economic impact of a judge's ruling on the Ca ses Castellones case requiring the CiF to pay 1.5m euros”. Aside from financial considerations, the councillor had a broader critique to make, for society in general and local politicians in particular. He called the present case “a clear example of the pitfalls of rash decision making” and recalled the chain of events between 2003 and 2005 that saw the PP —with backing from GUIF and PREF— sidestep construction restrictions at the site and sign a building permit just one week before the project faced review. The upshot, he explained, is that the Council has been asked to pick up what started out as a 5m euro tab. Susana Labrador, spokesperson for Gent per Formentera, called on the PP to “assume political responsibility for the repercussions of the ruling”.

Rural affairs
Councillor Escandell also took time to speak about the Farmland Reserve project. He described the goal as going beyond “winning back the image of an actively farmed countryside” and extending to “enhancing crop yield”. To the second point, he said locally-grown products were necessary for providing cheap options for livestock feed and “turning over fine-dining calibre products that we can be proud of”.

On agriculture, Escandell highlighted the importance of a recent announcement from the Govern Balear's chair Mateu Ginard that plans for the local irrigation pond have been set for next summer.

In terms of fishing, the councillor called “stepping up monitoring operations along our coasts” his personal crusade.

Escandell stated his own pledge: “To make our beaches, coastline and island safe.” To do so, Escandell referred to the Council's 37 person-strong team which works with other forces behind the exclusive task of ensuring order and safety.

In terms of firefighting, Escandell reported on the addition of one professional fireman to the island's brigade, which is made up of four professionals and two volunteers. He also hailed “the speed and professionalism of our firefighters' response to a string of vehicle arson incidents this winter”. The councillor said those fires are still under investigation.

Council affirms it has submitted accounts for third-party audits over last five years

The Formentera Council's tax office reported today that in the last five years the administration has provided its general accounts to the regional court of audits – la Sindicatura de Comptes – and, it asserts, has done so since taking office. «The story published in different media sources today is false», declared department head Bartomeu Escandell, who attributes the erroneous information to «a potential point of confusion, stemming from the fact that in recent years the Council has submitted its accounts after the court's established deadline of 15 October». «Never have we neglected to submit our accounts entirely», he said, and assured «the accusation has no basis in fact».

Partnership with court of audits

In the words of Councillor Escandell, «the Council has an extremely good relationship with the court of audits». He referred to a partnership in place since December whereby the CiF submits its financial information for auditing by the Sindicatura. The accord grants the Sindicatura access to the CiF's accounting system and, as Escandell explained, they have the ability to audit both past fiscal years and the budgetary information of the different departments of the Council. At the time the accord was signed, he said, the Council committed to «full cooperation to facilitate any and all accounting checks». The partnership between the Sindicatura de Comptes and the Formentera Council is indefinite. 

Council plenary brings approval for 2016 budget

Votacio pressupost 2016 premsaThis morning saw the island’s councillors gather to celebrate the October plenary session of the Formentera Council. Of particular significance on the agenda was a proposal to grant initial approval to the Council’s general 2016 budgets, which, at 22,275,000 euros, are 1.43 percentage points higher than the accounts in 2015.    Bartomeu Escandell, tax office councillor, was on hand to speak to any questions on the subject. He pointed out – underscoring the focus on «quality public services» – the patent continuity between the budgets of years past and the coming year.

Environment and transport
Escandell enumerated some of the different projects envisioned for 2016, paying special attention to the green ones: rezoning and additional environmental protections at l’Estany des Peix, an initiative to regulate anchorage across the island’s coastline. Investment in sustainable transport was a recurring theme,  as the councillor made clear

Sustainable transport, the councillor made clear, is an important part of 2016 investments, as evidenced by the forthcoming draft of a directive on transport and plans to rehabilitate and repurpose local heritage sites.

Local participation
The councillor spoke of the move to give the Consell d’Entitats authority to decide which projects will receive 10% of the CiF investment budget (250,000€). The tax office councillor reminded plenary participants of the drop (from 0.85% to 0.80%) in the local real estate tax on urban buildings. He noted, however, that overall collections are expected to increase, thanks to improved inspection techniques.

Rejection by opposition
For a variety of reasons, the new budget did not receive support from the different opposition parties. Partido Popular spokesman José Manuel Alcaraz declared his party’s intent to submit objections in an attempt to lower tax rates. Socialist councillor Rafael Ramírez explained his party’s objection as «a question of principle», indicating the PSOE’s desire to be included in the consensus process. Compromís amb Formentera spokeswoman Cristina Costa, while declaring «agreement on the general terms of the budget», assured her party would have given priority to different projects. In the end, the budget was passed thanks to “yes” votes from the ruling party and despite the “no” of the opposition.

Seeking funds to purchase Espalmador
Attendants of the plenary voted unanimously to support a joint motion – first launched by the PP – to seek out funding in conjunction with the Palma and Madrid governments to buy the island of s’Espalmador and guarantee its environmental upkeep. Labelling it a subject of general interest, Councillor Escandell stressed the importance of winning the support of all the island’s political parties. He also said he would petition to see that «more controls are put in place to ensure a real, effective protection of the island take place». The three other groups gave their support to this idea.

There were three final measures that saw councillors join together for unanimous approval. First among these was a motion to post the agendas of the CiF president and councillors on the Formentera Council website. The second dealt with the drafting of a collaborative accord to improve the island’s firefighting service. In the third case, the go-ahead was given to commissioning an undersea archeological map of Formentera and surrounding areas. In patrimony councillor Susana Labrador’s words, «locating and describing our underwater archeological heritage sites is the first step toward effectively protecting them».  

Budget for 2016 anticipates funding to regulate anchorage along Formentera coastline

RP Pressupostos premsaFormentera Council president Jaume Ferrer and vice president and tax office councillor Bartomeu Escandell have unveiled the administration’s 2016 budget. As Escandell explained, next year’s books «stick to the budgetary route first taken in 2012» and «keep spending at roughly 22 million euros». The exact figure is 22,275,000.00€, or 1.43% than last year.

Escandell indicated: «This budget» - composed of 12 million euros from internal financing and another 9 million from sources like the Balearic community and Madrid - «allows the Formentera Council to remain financially self-reliant». During the 2016 fiscal year the administration will continue lowering taxes levied, a move affecting real estate taxes in the island’s urban areas: the current rate of 0.85% will drop to 0.80%. The councillor assured that, despite the drop, adjustments to collection practises will effect an overall increase in funds raised.

Environmental programmes
Investment, reserved for green programmes, will be made into two projects: one, a project to oversee the management and protection of the Estany des Peix zone, and another, regulation of boat anchorage across the Formentera coastline. Each of these has a budget of 60,000 euros. An additional goal of investment is to promote sustainable transport. Vice President Escandell referred to the upcoming drafting of a mobility directive, aimed at «maximising efficiency in public transport and instating a green trails network».

Two line items on the budget are set aside for repurposing local heritage sites in order to increase their use by the community. Two-hundred thousand euros, for example, are allocated for the project to convert the lighthouse in la Mola into a cultural centre, and a similar project at Can Ramon is set to receive 30,000 euros.

New decision-making power for Consell d’Entitats
The 2016 budget bestows the local board of associations and business leaders with new participatory capabilities. «With this budget», pointed out Escandell, «the Consell d’Entitats is given the authority to decide where 10% (or 250,000€) of the investment budget goes». This will further increase the importance of the Consell in deciding which projects receive assistence on Formentera.

Additional public service improvements envisioned by the new budget are the construction of a municipal funeral parlour and the expansion of service at the cami Vell nursery school to include year-round classes.

Govern and Council pact on fifty-fifty split of Formentera-Eivissa waste transfer costs

BartomeuEscandellThe Formentera Council, in the words of the administration's councillor of economy Bartomeu Escandell, “wishes to give thanks to the Govern Balear, which, by way of an arm of the Palma government known as 'el Consell de Govern' has made official a subsidy of €2,136,000—fifty percent of the Formentera-Eivissa waste transfer costs accrued from 2011 to 2014”.

The subsidy follows negotiations that were held over two years between José Vicente Marí Bossó, the autonomous government's tax and budgets councillor, and, representing the Formentera Council, Escandell himself.

Bartomeu Escandell explained: “Our wish is that the Govern assumes full responsibility of the cost of transport. That was the agreement in place from the time the es Cap de Barbaria transfer plant was opened through 31 December 2010—the duration of Balearic president Antich's presidency. We would have wanted a similar accord to bear out during this legislature”.

Councillor Escandell reported that “during this legislative sitting, the cost of waste transfer reached 4.5 millon euros, so the agreement reached today—and the €2,136,000 in funding that it guarantees—are positive for the Council”.

Escandell applauded Marí Bossó for what the economic councillor described as “his knack for true dialogue and his will to compromise”. Speaking of the outgoing legislature, Escandell continued: “With Councillor Marí Bossó, important agreements have been struck both on this issue and with regard to funding for the island councils”.

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