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Jul 10, 2001

Saint-Barth heads toward autonomy

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For the past several years, the island's elected officials have been looking for ways to push the island toward greater financial autonomy. The municipal council meeting that was held on June 27, 2001 gave a more realistic base by which to achieve that objective. During the meeting, two important deliberations were adopted. The first involves increasing an established tax, the second foresees creating a new tax in order to cover community expenses. The port tax-a local tax in effect since 1974 that is levied on all imported items-has been raised by one point, from 4 to 5 percent. At its present level, the port tax already accounts for half of the community's receipts. Its constant progression is not only a sign that the local economy is doing well but also that the port tax is being more efficiently collected. The monies raised by this tax have doubled in the last 5 years, going from 15 million francs in 1995 to 30 million francs in 2000. Once the increase goes into effect at the beginning of next year, the supplemental income is expected to finance the new incinerator's high operating costs. More precisely, the estimated 7.5 million francs in new tax monies will be cover the 6.8 million franc bill that the company chosen to run the plant has requested as its fee.
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The new tax will be levied at the pump. The gas tax was created on June 27 and was voted into Overseas departments' orientation law on December 27, 2000, upon the request of local elected officials. St. Barth's municipal council set the tax amount at 50 centimes per liter of gas, raising gas prices from 4.10 francs to 4.60 francs. Effective as of this August 1, it is expected to bring in as much as 10 million francs into the community's coffers. In accordance with the terms of the law, the tax monies will be used to "finance the upkeep and modernization of the island's roads." Though the legislation has allowed for a local pump tax of up to 1.50 francs, officials opted to preserve their good standing with voters and apply the minimum tax amount of 50 centimes.
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Through the adoption of these two measures, Mayor Bruno Magras has given the community the means to cover its operating costs and breathe easier about the future. Even though the island will be cut off from the sizeable stipend it has received every year, the withdrawal of the nearly 15 million francs it received from the region, and the expectations that went with it, have now ceded to a more pragmatic understanding that rights entail certain responsibilities and require the capacity to fulfill those obligations. Mayor Magras is now sending France the message that the community's desire to take on more administrative autonomy can be financially substantiated and locally underwritten.
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Whether or not having found a means to bolster its claim for greater independence will incite the government to act in favor of St. Barth's request for its own administrative and fiscal statute remains to be seen. But that's another story, one that we'll have occasion to develop once we've begun to pay our dues at the pump.
Yves Bourel


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