City council approves P2.95-billion budget

(Arnold Almacen photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Sangguniang Panglungsod of Iloilo City on Wednesday approved the city government’s annual budget for 2023, which was significantly less compared to 2022 because of lower national tax collections.

The city council unanimously approved the Committee on Appropriations report detailing the city’s local budget for next year at P2.958 billion, 4 percent lower than the P3.083-billion budget for 2022.

The decrease is due to the 14.47 percent slash in the National Tax Allotment (NTA) share of the city, which is at P1.375 billion for 2023, compared to P1.607 billion in 2022, or a loss of around P232 million.

This is the only part of the proposed city budget which also decreased, as the city’s own tax revenue (P1.402 billion) increased by 7.27 percent, non-tax revenue (P160.18 billion) by 6.71 percent, and shares from other national taxes (P20 million) by 14.29 percent.

While there were decreases in the NTA, components of the budget are set to see increases including appropriations (8.29 percent), Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses or MOOE (1.13 percent), and Financial Expenses, Interests from Loans, and Documentary Stamps (30.61 percent).

The following budget items were also compared to 2022 – Capital Outlay (79.37 percent) and Special Purpose Appropriations (11.28 percent).

As to value, the City Mayor’s Office takes the largest chunk of the budget at P1.430 billion, as it includes supply and fuel expenses of other city government departments, loan payments and other financial obligations of the city arising from contracts, as well as interests from the loan for the building of the City Hall which was contracted back in 2008.

The Local Finance Committee (City Budget, City Treasurer, City Planning and Development, and City Accounting, as well as other finance-related offices) explained in a report that the Financial Expenditure increases were due to loans taken out for the rehabilitation of the central and district public markets and the development of the Uswag Iloilo City Hospital in Molo district.

National mandates to be implemented as part of the 2023 city budget include the Fourth Tranche of Republic Act No. 11466 (Salary Standardization Law of 2019), and the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) Budget Circular 2021-2 which elevates the salary of nurses.

With this, the Nurse I position, which was previously pegged at Salary Grade 11 (P25,439 under Step 1 of the Third Tranche of Rep. Act No. 11466) will be upgraded to Salary Grade 15 (P35,097 under Step 1 of the said Tranche).

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas earlier said the Fourth Tranche implementation is set to take effect in mid-2023 due to the NTA decreases.

National government officials who receive allowances from the city government, including judges and clerks of court at the Regional and Municipal Trial courts (RTC and MTC), should also expect decreases next year, with MTC clerks receiving no allowances.

But the Committee on Appropriations is lobbying for the inclusion of MTC clerks in the supplemental budget for next year, citing the “exercise of equal treatment”.

The report also noted that almost all city government offices are set to experience decreases due to NTA losses, which prompted them to leave the budget as it is.

“The Committee has opted not to slash, add, or augment items in the proposed 2023 Executive Budget as the City Government does not enjoy abundance and excess and almost all departments have experienced budget cuts across the board, it feels like an injustice to take what has already been significantly reduced. It is thus the safer recourse to rely on the sound wisdom of the Local Finance Committee in drafting the annual budget for 2023,” the committee report stated.

Questions were also raised on the confidential and intelligence funds as well as funding allocated for catering.

It was pointed out that aside from the P21.11 million for the peace and order program, another P18 million was set aside for confidential funds, and P13 million for “extraordinary and miscellaneous” expenses, and that the “catering expenses” were not found in the 2022 budget.

Appropriations committee chairperson, Councilor Rex Sarabia, said the peace and order budget is mandated by Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code, as amended), and that the confidential and intelligence funds are also allowed under law.

Sarabia cited Joint Circular No. 2015-01 by the DBM, Commission on Audit (COA), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG), and the Department of National Defense (DND), allows local government units to allocate confidential and intelligence funds if peace and order is part of their priority and if allowed through the appropriation ordinance.

Meanwhile, Sarabia said the catering allocations are for seminars and events of the city government’s offices as well as potential visitors from the national government, international organizations, and the private sector.

The appropriation ordinance is now set to be forwarded to Treñas’ office for his signature, but the mayor told Daily Guardian in a text message that he would have it reviewed by the City Budget and City Legal offices.