Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Letter to St Helier ratepayers

Dear Ratepayer
The annual sending out of Rates Assessment notices, which are not a request for payment but notification of how your rates bill will be calculated after the Parish Assembly have ‘set the rate’ on Wednesday 17th July, gives me a valuable opportunity to enclose a letter to you. Hopefully the monthly parish magazine, The Town Crier, together with our website (www.sthelier.je) is keeping you up-to-date with parish matters, but there are a few things that I would like to bring to you attention in this letter.
To begin with our magazine, I hope you like the new format. The second issue will be delivered to you at the beginning of June and early signs are that it was a good decision to change our supplier to bring the work (and jobs) involved back to Jersey. As you are probably aware, production and delivery of The Town Crier is paid for entirely out of advertising revenue. If you are a ratepayer living outside the Parish boundary you will not automatically receive a copy; you can either read it on the website or request for it to be posted to you each month.
Now that we have a monthly magazine and a regularly updated website we are considering another way of saving money – ceasing to run ‘Gazette’ notices in the JEP, a potential annual saving of £10,000. We have received advice that our current means of publishing official notices in the magazine, website, and official notice box outside the Town Church, would (if supplemented by additional notice boards including at the Town Hall, the Nelson Street offices of the Honorary Police and the electronic information screen at Charing Cross) be sufficient to comply with the relevant law. After all, not everyone reads the newspaper. However, before taking this step I would be interested to hear any views you may have on the subject.
A more substantial saving in parish expenditure reaches the million pound mark this month following the decision that was taken not to fill the post of Chief Executive of the parish back in 2002. Since then our administration has been run by a management board which I chair whose members are the five directors of Finance, Human Resources, Municipal Services, Parks and Technical & Environmental Services together with the two Procureurs du Bien Public. We meet fortnightly to deal with the many matters, large and small, that are involved in the running of a large and busy parish. I am grateful to them as I am to all of the parish’s 350-strong staff team and our numerous volunteers that a culture of reducing unnecessary expenditure is instilled in every area of how the parish is run, alongside the constant effort to find ways of improving the services we offer our ratepayers without increasing costs.
A major difficulty we face, however, is that some of the key decisions affecting our finances are out of our hands. The States of Jersey Employment Board (SEB) agreed a 4% pay rise effective from January 2014 without any consultation with us which presents an enormous challenge to my team who have been trying to keep down costs. The States also impose regulations on our residential homes and day nurseries which lead to increased costs, and these two factors have been instrumental in our decision to close one of our three homes, Maison de Ville, at the end of 2014. This is, of course, a very unsettling time for the 26 residents and the staff of the home, although we do have the advantage of running two other homes which will have a part to play in addressing the future needs of staff and residents; we also have 18 months in order to manage the process sympathetically.
While the unfair burden of welfare costs has been removed from the shoulders of St Helier ratepayers, with the introduction of the Island Wide Rate in 2005, the States have yet to address the unfairness of the position of St Helier, whose ratepayers bear the cost of providing a clean and tidy capital for the majority of the Island’s workforce, shoppers and visitors. This problem was raised recently at a Parish Assembly where parishioners objected to the cost of refurbishing the Conway Street toilets, but similar arguments can be made about the cost of providing parks and gardens which, in the case of all other parishes, are paid for out of taxation. My proposition that the States pay rates on its properties (P.40/2013 – available on our website) goes to the States for debate on 4th June but so far it has received no support from the Council of Ministers (many of whom started their political careers as St Helier deputies!) or from the Committee of Constables. If the States were to agree to pay rates on public buildings we would at least have an extra million pounds a year to defray the running costs of the various services we provide to the whole island.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the referendum last month, those who voted as well as the parish’s team of staff and volunteers who ran our four polling stations and counted the votes. Our parish supported Option A by a majority of about 2:1 although Option B was the Island’s preferred choice. The States is likely to debate the implementation of the necessary changes for next year’s elections before the summer recess.
Yours sincerely
Simon Crowcroft