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Mar 27, 2011

Bet Shemesh Overcharges And Then Passes The Money To Others

This Shabbos I did not get to read the local papers, due to post-marathon exhaustion, and therefore only saw the following item in one source, the weekly BS news roundup sent by Rabbi Dov Lipman. While he just reported the item, I did not get to see how the various other newspapers responded to it.
City residents had filed a complaint because of a mistake in arnona collection in 2004. The mistake was 4.8 million NIS and an agreement was reached in which the municipality will pay back 2 million NIS in the form of renovations and improvements to city shuls. Councilman Shalom Lerner (B├Żachad) challenged this compromise since according to the documents, 1/4 of the 2 million is going to one specific shul in RBS Bet. This led to numerous stormy exchanges during which the opposition members, especially Motti Cohen (Dor Acher), demanded that the money be returned to the residents who overpaid the arnona and not to those who didn't. The compromise was accepted by a majority of the council.
While I understand the reason people are upset that such a large portion of the money is going to one shul, because the neighborhood in which it is located indicates that a very large percentage of the membership of that shul probably pay a severely discounted rate of arnona, meaning they are most likely not among the list of residents who overpaid back in 2004. So they did not pay the arnona, but are excessively benefiting form the payback.

I disagree with that complaint, as you cannot distinguish between which shul deserves it more or less in that way. If it is determined that the money should go to city shuls, all shuls are equal. if they knew who overpaid, they would give the money to those residents rather than the shuls. The fact that they dont know, means you cannot discriminate from one shul to another.

The complaint I have is why should one shul get such a large amount, no matter which shul it is? The money should be divided equally among all the shuls. Why should one shul get such a large portion of the money? They don't deserve it any more than any other shul. The payback of the disputed monies should be divided equally among all the shuls.

Besides for that, I disagree with the entire decision. The system used to collect payments is a computerized system. I don't know how one can determine if he is one of those residents who overpaid way back in 2004 or if he paid the right amount, but the City of Bet Shemesh Collections Department should be able to figure that out. There should not be such a situation where they know they overcharged people but cannot figure out who.

I promise you that if you had been undercharged, they would definitely realize every individual that underpaid, and they would come collecting the money with interest, as they should. They would not let you just make a donation to a shul to get out of the payment you are obligated to pay.

There is no reason why they should not be able to figure out who overpaid, and return their money to them. It is criminal, in my mind, that they wrongly collect money and then give that money to others rather than returning it to those who deserve it.

While in halacha it is clear that one who steals from the public and cannot determine to whom he must return the theft, his restoration consists of paying into a fund that benefits the entire public, again, here, they should be able to determine who overpaid. The other way, had anybody underpaid, they would know. And even if not the money should at least be distributed equally among all shuls, so as to ensure that all benefit somewhat from this.

To be fair, it should be pointed out that the initial issue, the overcharging of the residents, happened under the previous mayor, Dani Vaknin, and not under the current mayor, Moshe Abutbol. The decision of how to pay back the money was made under the current mayor.


  1. Rafi,

    Could you post this from David Morris..I would like to see what your posters feel about this issue


  2. I wonder why the secular members of the council didn't demand it go to the matnasim, or some other organization. Probably because they're just as spineless as the religious members :-/

    Of course, the best organizations would be those who relieve the city of doing their job when it comes to social services, etc...

  3. Some of us work for a living as our hishtaduls, others politic to do theirs....

  4. I was thinking of the fact that it was a shul in Bet, but I wouldn't have said it. The fact that such a large portion of it went to any one shul is wrong. What even more wrong is that if they know it was 4.8 million, why are they only "returning" 2 million? What's with the other 2.8? It's outright theft.


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