MINISTER of Local Government Noel Arscott said the St Thomas Parish Council and funeral homes that operate in the parish should strike a public/private partnership for the maintenance of the public cemetery since the operators are the ones who benefit the most from the facility.
His proposal was made against the background of the council's inability to collect nearly $100 million in property taxes, which is preventing it from operating efficiently.
Arscott, who was addressing councillors and staff at the parish council recently, said while relatives of the deceased pay funeral homes for their services, the parish council is the one that has to foot the maintenance bill for the cemetery. It is a cost to which the funeral homes do not contribute.
"So we need to call in operators and set out [a] framework so they can contribute towards the maintenance of the cemetery," Arscott told the council.
The minister said if the council was able to collect even half of what is owed it would be able to do so much more. He urged divisions to be innovative in their tax collection efforts and suggested that they explore the idea of having competitions as incentives.
"I need you to ramp up your collection of tax(es) as that is a low-hanging fruit," he said.
At the same time, the minister chided the council for failing to deliver building plans in a timely manner.
"Because of tardiness, millions are being held up in investments," he scolded.
He made reference to the availability of software that would allow for speedier processing while giving applicants the opportunity to check on the status of their applications.
After the minister addressed them, the councillors and staff got the opportunity to voice their concerns on a number of issues affecting the council, their divisions and the parish in general.
The concerns ranged from unauthorised burials, bad roads, lack of water and the need for a water truck, asbestos pipes close to schools, and the fencing of the St Thomas Infirmary to protect the residents.
Councillor of Port Morant Victor Hutchinson raised concerns about persons being buried at the cemetery without the council's knowledge or approval.
"A cemetery keeper is there, yet several graves were put in without the council's knowledge," Hutchinson informed the minister.
For her part, secretary manager Joan Thompson sought the minister's assistance in having the council relocated given that the current rented facilities were woefully inadequate.
"We need the minister's help in getting somewhere to host the staff, because if they are not comfortable it will impact on their performance," she said.
It was proposed that the authority be relocated to lands at the back of the adjoining transport centre.
She also pointed to the council's inability to engage stakeholders to contribute to the development of the parish, as another challenge facing the body.
"I am not satisfied with the council's role in wooing investors to the parish as we spend too much time looking at triviality instead of broadbase," she said, adding that "we have (the) ability and staff to make this the best council".
Thompson noted, however, that St Thomas will not be able to attract investors if the council itself is not contributing to development, but some councillors said they were without guidance on how the council should operate.
In responding to this concern the minister said he has recognised the need for training.
"You will need to know what sort of information the secretary manager can withhold from you, and so on, because you can't deliver customer service to the public and at the end of the day you don't have an internal customer service," he said.
The minister, who along with his state minister Colin Fagan, toured the Infirmary, the Morant Bay Market, the burnt-out Morant Bay Courthouse, among other areas in the town, said the council will have to devise a plan to address scheme, parochial and farm roads.
On the subject of development, Arscott announced that Cow Bay could possibly become one of the major hubs for shipping, as his colleague Minister of Investment Anthony Hylton was actively looking at proposals from potential investors.