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Local Government in Israel

TThe local authorities in Israel derive their framework and sanction from those of the British Mandate in Palestine, amended in 1948 Law and Administration Ordinance and further legislation. The Municipalities Order was publicized in 1934, detailing the instructions for the work of local municipalities: Method of elections, roles and authority of council members, sources of income, procedures for budget approval, rules for fulfilling administrative goals, and procedures for convening the city council and its committees. The order provided the British High Commissioner to declare the establishment of new municipalities and change existing municipal borders.

A mandate order from 1941 gave local authorities the power of legislating bylaws, pending approval of the High Commissioner. Furthermore, it preserved the manner giving the High Commissioner the right to appoint mayors and their deputies, while regional governors were given authority to approve budget allowances and supervise them. The order remained valid following the establishment of the State of Israel and many of its articles remain valid, though some have changed over time.

The Local Authorities Order (Business Taxation) was publicized in 1945, providing local authorities with the power to pass bylaws enforcing business taxation within their jurisdiction, pending the High Commissioner's approval. Following the establishment of the State, the authorities of the High Commissioner were passed onto the Minister of Interior and further legislation was made to set the duties and authorities of the local government. The Transition Law maintained the local authorities under the responsibility and supervision of the central government, as it was under the British Mandate.

Israel has three kinds of local authorities with different municipal statuses: Municipal council a local authority that has the status of a city; local council a local authority that is not large enough to have the status of a city; regional council a local authority of several settlements, usually rural. According to the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, in May 2007 Israel had 255 local authorities 72 municipal councils, 128 local councils and 5 regional councils.

The local authorities' councils are elected on the basis of proportional representation. Many mayors and heads of local councils are nominated on local candidate lists, and not national ones, even though many local lists are associated with the national parties. Since 1975, and first implemented in 1978, heads of local authorities (mayors or chairpersons of local/regional councils) are elected in direct elections.

Local authorities provide their citizens with local services, such as water supply, sewage systems, garbage disposal, road paving and maintenance, installment and maintenance of public gardens and parks, social services, and establishment of institutions for sports, education, culture and health. The actual education, health, welfare and religious services are provided by the central government. Municipal councils are eligible to promote bylaws, pending approval of the Minister of Internal Affairs, and in local councils under the supervision the regional administrators of the Ministry.

The main source of income for local authorities are payments made by their citizens by way of property taxes, payments for usage of local educational cultural and recreational services, bylaws-generated income, various tolls, and incomes from the authority's assets. Other income sources are funds transferred from the central government for providing the citizens with national services, or as general funding (an agreement concluded that the local authorities will fund 25% of the costs of educational and welfare services provided by them, while 75% will be funded by the ministries of education and welfare), balance grants and other grants. A balance grant is a sum passed on by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to bridge over gaps between the incomes and expenses of local authorities. Few authorities are not in need of such a grant. Among other grants given is the capital grant for the city of Jerusalem. Main expenses of the local authorities are for local and national services, loan payments, and funds allocated for development.

The central government supervises over the local authorities and therefore holds much clout. The finance and internal affairs ministries wish to uphold the local authorities in a regime of balanced budget. The Minister of Internal Affairs is in charge of the local authorities and is authorized to audit their actions and approve or disqualify actions concerning their budgets, such as acceptance of loans, guarantees, selling of land and committing to agreements not included in the budget. The minister may appoint on his behalf an accountant to check and approve financial reports of local authorities. He is also authorized to enforce the collection of debts of local authorities, and may dissolve a council and appoint another on his own behalf. The relations between the government and the local authorities are discussed further in additional laws, allowing ministers to create regulations concerning local services in education, welfare, planning and construction, fire safety, transportation and public health. To withstand within the limits of the Budget Law (national), government ministries providing services to the local councils must have strict supervision over them.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, local authorities have had many financial crises that have been the basis for struggles between the central and local governments. These struggles have been expressed in ways such as delay in salary payments for employees, and these in turn caused financial bankruptcy to many authorities. Many committees discussed the issues of the local government and some recommendations have been implemented. The government's recovery plan, executed since 1997 with the consent of the local authorities, brought some authorities to financial stability, mainly through the reduction of expenses.


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