Jerusalem sanitation workers went on strike Thursday, after the city sent termination letters to 170 employees in the department.
The municipality also warned that the move was the first of many necessary cutbacks to come — with up to 2,000 more firings — if the Finance Ministry does not transfer to the city the funds needed to keep a balanced budget in 2016.
As of January 1, the city will have no budget to pay workers and operate additional services in the city, it warned in a statement.
This was happening “because there was no advancement with the Finance Ministry in the transfer of the necessary funds to Israel’s capital,” the statement said.
“In the current situation, the municipality is forced to make massive cuts in the welfare, education and culture budgets — with the aim of presenting a balanced budget with no deficits, as we are obligated to under the law,” the statement continued.
Mayor Nir Barkat said that the city had no choice but to begin making the cuts, which would include an additional 2,000 layoffs and a decline in services such as educational programs, city maintenance, care for the needy and cultural initiatives.
Additionally, the extra security added to educational and other city institutions in the wake of the current terror wave could potentially be cut.
“The Finance Ministry’s refusal to transfer funds to Jerusalem does not allow us to continue the services provided by the city, and we are forced to take the most difficult step and lay off workers that we need, and to make difficult cuts in the city’s support for welfare, educational and cultural institutions, which means laying off thousands of additional workers in the city,” Barkat said. “Especially in a period of terror attacks, we expected to receive wider reinforcement and not a cold shoulder.”
The funding in question is provided annually to Jerusalem by the government and is meant to fill in the gap between the city’s revenues and its spending on services for residents. The city claims it needs NIS 400 million (about $102 million) in additional funding in order to continue functioning.
A source at the Finance Ministry told the Haaretz news site that Barkat was acting aggressively and demanding exorbitant sums from the government. “Jerusalem will receive a professional solution, and the meetings and discussions with the municipality are continuing to take place all the time,” the source said.
On November 29, the government approved a plan to allocate NIS 100 million ($26 million) to Jerusalem in order to help the capital’s struggling industries in the wake of the recent terror wave.
That plan was presented after Barkat ran a campaign over the preceding weeks pressuring Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon “not to abandon Jerusalem.” Barkat recruited municipality workers for the campaign; at one point a garbage truck bearing an anti-Kahlon poster was parked for hours across the street from the Knesset.
Last week, Barkat announced that he was officially joining the Likud party, arousing suspicions that he was considering a potential challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership. However, Barkat said that he plans to continue to serve as mayor of Jerusalem, “at least until the end of the current term” in 2018.