Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios says there are no alternatives to the deep cuts he proposes in the new municipal budget. “I realize some of the measures are extreme but we have to live within our means and some of the projects proposed by the previous government cannot be funded,” he says.
In all, Palacios is cutting more than $56 million from the budget that will take the city to the end of 2019. “This is clearly an austerity budget that leaves little room to maneuver. The first obligation is to pay the debts that have already been incurred and maintain basic public services.”
Among the projects that will go unfunded for the remainder of the year are the restoration of the Febres Cordero school in the historic district and planning for Cuenca’s bicentennial of independence celebration next year. In addition, no funding is included budget for renovation of the football stadium or city markets, several of which Palacios acknowledges are in desperate need of repair.
“In general, there is no allocation for new projects in this budget,” the mayor says.
Palacios and several municipal council members say the final payment for the city’s tram system of $44 million, still months away from operating, is a burden that has an impact on all budget items. “It is an obligation that we cannot walk away from, unfortunately,” Palacios says.
Several council members object to cuts in ongoing city programs, such as cultural and international affairs. “Eliminating one million dollars from the cultural affairs budget is drastic,” says Councilman Roque Ordonez. “Art and culture are at the heart of Cuenca life and this cut will have a terrible impact,” he says.
The city budget office responds that a number of cultural projects currently underway will continue to be funded, including the restoration of three heritage houses in the historic district, the La Glorida sports complex and the Tarqui Guzho, de la Luz, La Libertad and Guataná megaparks.
Some city council members object to new expenses proposed by Palacios including a $307,000 increase in the communication budget and $1.8 million for consulting. According to Palacios, the expenses are necessary for correcting previous budget mistakes and creating “a more sustainable budgeting process for the future.”