Espinoza: Is Cebu City shooing away residents, businesses?

To get its ambitious P50 billion budget for next year, the Cebu City Government’s Executive Department is rushing all means to achieve this humongous amount in order to achieve the Singapore-like city vision to the extent of placing the huge tax burden on small and big taxpayers.

The Executive Department should consider the fact that even its own party member, Councilor Noel Wenceslao, who chairs the committee on budget and finance, seriously doubts that the proposed increase in taxes could cover the P50 billion proposed budget of Mayor Mike Rama. Wenceslao suggested looking into other “windows of opportunity” to raise funds.

In proposing to increase the real property tax, does this mean that the Cebu City Government is driving away the residents back to their hometowns or provinces as a way of decongesting the city? As for the business sector, I’m sure that the neighboring towns and cities of Cebu City would be happy to welcome the small, medium and big business owners who would move out of the city once the proposed real property tax measure is approved and imposed.

Wenceslao has said that some property owners may experience an up to 7,000 percent increase in their taxes as the increase in the real property tax is dependent on the fair market value. Most, if not all, councilors did not bite the justification of lawyer Jerone Castillo during the hearing on Monday at the City Council that raising the real property taxes 10 times or more than the present rate is lawful. Castillo, a certified public accountant, is the mayor’s assistant on fiscal reforms.

Neophyte Councilor Rey Gealon said he supports Mayor Rama’s Singapore-like city vision, but not the implementing of property tax increase in one blow. He suggested to Castillo to spread for 10 years without interest the imposition of the new tax rates. But Castillo was firm on his stance because of fear that the Department of the Interior and Local Government would sue the City Government for its failure to increase taxes once in every three years since 2002. After hearing Castillo’s reasoning, Gealon remarked that “ang sala sa goberno, tawo ang masakripisyo” (the people are the ones who are burdened by the government’s fault).

Gealon said with the hefty increase, we need “to take a second hard look and seriously contemplate...whether it is legally and morally just and reasonable, especially at this time.” (Pachico Seares’ Explainer).

I agree with Councilor Wenceslao that the City Government must look for other windows of opportunities than sledgehammer—if I may borrow the term used by Attorney Seares—the taxpayers who are the backbone of the country’s economy.

I’ve learned from reliable sources that some owners of edifices in the city declare only a few stories of their tall buildings to avoid the huge property tax.

The City should start tax mapping and inspecting tall buildings if these are declared at the City Assessors Office.