Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Garth Rattray | Recipe for social degradation

Published:Monday | September 19, 2016 | 9:00 AM

The failures, inaction and delays of regulatory and oversight local government authorities must share the blame for our social degradation. Sadly, the process is now beginning its insidious metastasis to a quiet and peaceful St Mary community that is well known to me.

Within this community, bad and worsening roads, extremely sparse street lights, even sparser fire hydrants all exist for many years in spite of repeated petitions to the St Mary Parish Council. Except for garbage collection by the National Solid Waste Management Authority, this community has, for all intents and purposes, been left to fend for itself. The St Mary Parish Council is only carrying out the barest of its perfunctory duties when it comes to this community and, I assume, others like it.

Here is how communities usually degrade: In spite of sustained Herculean efforts from concerned citizens, the local government authorities ignore several breaches. Roads, street lights, fire hydrants and clearing of overgrown and unkempt lots go unattended indefinitely. Then, crime creeps in and frustrated, forlorn residents feel disrespected, ignored and abandoned, so they capitulate. They start moving away and selling off their properties and/or renting their homes without due care. In time, tenement yards spring up, property value plummets precipitously and with that comes a crescendo of crime and another hotspot for the police to deal with.

 

Neglected community

 

The community which I'm very familiar with consists mostly of reserved individuals who are retirees, semi-retirees or people preparing to retire. So far, only the steadfast efforts of community leaders have been keeping this community from deteriorating. Criminal elements are beginning to prey on residents. God forbid that there should be a fire - the bad roads, few hydrants and frequent water lock-offs would seriously hamper the firefighting efforts. Properties and lives are already in jeopardy.

The community representatives have been petitioning the parish council for years in futile attempts to get help before it's too late. To date, there has been only minimal reaction. Several obvious building breaches slipped by the parish council and have remained, in spite of repeated correspondence pointing them out and reminding the council that something needs to be done.

The ingress and egress roads were commandeered during the building of Highway 2000. Heavy-duty equipment destroyed the road surfaces and promises to repair those roads are all that the community has received.

This is not a gated community; it is the responsibility of the parish council. The council knows that this community is levied among the highest property taxes in St Mary and that the community also has the distinction of being the most (property) tax-compliant community in St Mary ... but to what end? Horrendous roads, darkness at nights, a severe paucity of fire hydrants and recently, burgeoning criminal activity.

 

Property tax

 

It stings, bewilders and frustrates when the Government constantly announces that we must pay our property taxes or else they will do unpleasant things to us. Property taxes are supposed to be used to (according to the Tax Administration Jamaica website) "... finance property-related services in communities throughout Jamaica. Property tax pays for: maintenance and expansion of street lighting; collection and disposal of solid waste; community infrastructure and civil improvements; administration of local authorities; repairs to fire stations, and rehabilitation of parochial/farm roads".

I counted more than 20 back-and-forth communications between the community representative and the relevant authorities (from the minister to the mayor and other councillors), but, to date, nothing has come from them. Promising, delaying, side-stepping, deflecting, deferring, dodging have all been honed to perfection by the government representatives. All we are told is that, although the parish council is fully aware of the breaches and other problems within our community, we are to keep writing letters and pressing for help because that is how the system works. And, efforts are being made to rectify some problems.

Little wonder then that the community continues to suffer. It should, therefore, come as no surprise when corruption exists because such a system begs for people to use alternative means to get what they want done or expedited.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com