I'm sitting in my neighbor's living room, and about 30 additional neighbors have joined us here to meet with Moshe Dadon, a candidate for our local Regional Council (mo'etza). Unlike the major cities, where voting took place a few weeks ago, our area goes to the polls in January to choose its new Regional Council members.
Moshe grew up in the area (Moshav Luzit) and has served as the Regional Council secretary for the past four years, so he knows the system from the inside. He described growing up among the chicken coops, and seeing the agriculture lifestyle fall by the wayside as the years went by. The area's needs now are completely different; he noted that much of the moshav property formerly used for agriculture is now factories.
Moshe describes himself as "very green - not in terms of money, but the environment" (It wasn't clear what he means by this, as some of his later statements indicated that he has a poor understanding of certain environmental issues). He understands that many people are flocking to the moshav expansions for the quality of life, and are not agriculturally minded. He realizes that municipality taxes have been rising, but are not nearly at Jerusalem levels, and that all the local illegal building is only hurting all the citizens because they cannot benefit from improvements if local tax money is not being put back into the system.
Moshe pledges the following:
1. Taxes collected locally, stay local. All tax monies collected for the moshav expansions (of which there are many) will go directly back into moshav coffers.
2. Sliding scale taxation. Everyone should pay arnona, including residential buildings, local businesses, quarries and other industrial properties, according to their ability. Anyone who qualified for a discount will receive one accordingly. The Arab sector, which has been neglected until now, will also receive the amount entitled by law.
3. Financial independence. The general dependence on the system for financial support is unjustified and has to be changed. Every community can then become independent and make its own decisions according to its needs.
4. Infrastructure. By law, 5% of tax money collected by the Regional Council is designated for internal development; that means 12 million shekels has to be distributed every year to the local municipal governments, for use as they see fit.
5. Primary Education. The local educational system should be run locally, by a professional with a doctorate in education. Most of the local population is religious, and any new local school would have to be religious and include all the children in the surrounding local moshavim. Until now, our religious school system has not provided a good education, period, and many families send their kids to a different school district.
6. Secondary Education. High schools in the area have been closing, but the local population is growing and we'll need to develop a series of local high schools here in the area. Competition is good for education, as it is for everything else. By law, only the head of the Regional Council is entitled to choose where kids go to school. At this time we have 4000 high school students, and the system doesn't have room for new students, even if it were a good system and people were willing to send their kids.
7. Transportation to School. For now, funding from other budgets, such as the building budget, to fund school buses for local kids. There is no governmentally funded option for transportation for high school-age pupils. Children need to go to good schools, locally, such that there won't be a need for transportation. School buses are a temporary measure until we have good schools in the area. Pupils can't succeed if they spend hours on buses, and there's no equal opportunities for all citizens until we have quality local schools for everyone. We don't have time to wait.
When it was pointed out that building all these schools will take time, he didn't have a clear answer, except to improve the existing schools. One neighbor offered a temporary solution of not having kids for the next few years, which got a few laughs but underlined the seriousness of the issue. Moshe grew up in the system, continued to be involved in the local education system after his high school graduation, and sends his kids to the local schools, so he is aware, from the inside, of just how bad it is.
When asked about the decision making powers of the local municipality versus the Council regarding expansion issues, he spoke in favor of allowing the municipal council to receive tax monies and make most local decisions. Regarding division of properties, especially public and moshav properties, he cited a local example of a town within the region that wanted to build a swimming pool with public develop monies, and the Regional Council refused to grant permission.
A participant described one local conflict regarding the use and upkeep of moshav property, an issue which has put residents of our Moshav extension at odds with the decision-makers of the moshav's municipal council, with no legal redress... As this neighborbor pointed out, this type of conflict usually stays on a minor and limited level, but the same problems tend to repeat themselves, and our current expansion has only brought the issue to the fore. Moshe did not provide a clear answer regarding this issue.
Regarding the protection of nature conservancies, Moshe supports expanding into parts of those ares for the benefit of the local populations. He cited the building of a new school as one example.
Moshe has pledged to bring educated, reliable and honest workers into the Regional Council, and here he was asked regarding the type of people he would, indeed, bring with him. (It has been said that our local government has become bulky and corrupt over the years, and I can testify to the number and quality of shiny cars in the parking lot).
Moshe responded by pointing out that there is one person in the regional government overseeing all 180 local kindergartens in the region, with a similar situation for the primary schools... "No one person is a workhorse." A neighbor responded with cynicism, that the only department in the council that returns phone calls is the Collection Department. Generally, those present at the meeting did not express satisfaction with the so-called reforms he claims to have made until now.
Moshe referred to a total rearrangement of the governing system, especially the educational system, and that in his view this includes, among other things, encouraging older workers to retire, and having others transfer to departments where they are needed. "If one doctor is no good, do you blame all the doctors?"
He continued to refer to poor air quality, although he offered no clear solutions. Prior to this, he claimed not to understand the connection between electricity and the quality of the environment. Regarding a specific road in the area which has been declared unsafe and whose legal status has remained unclear for years (the road remains open but the police sometimes distributes tickets to those who travel on it), he offered no clear answer, except to point out that the Regional Council has been trying to resolve the issue.
Moshe's closing statement (summary): We have the opportunity to develop the area, to give everyone an opportunity and quality of life. The problem is not as other candidates will tell you, that this or that individual bureaucrat is responsible. The money is the issue. If we want to develop the area, our money has to go to the right places; quality education for everyone, and local development.
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On Wednesday, another candidate will be coming to impress us.... stay tuned.
Keep the balance,