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Green Space Maintenance Costs Quintuple in District XV Despite Reduced Area

In a startling financial development within Budapest's District XV, the cost to maintain green spaces has skyrocketed from 147.8 million forints to 850 million within one year, even as the actual area requiring upkeep has decreased.
The district's leadership remains steadfastly committed to their external maintenance contractor, choosing to extend its contract through June 2025 in an early February council meeting. Independent municipal representative Béla Palocsai finds this decision particularly odd for several reasons.

The favored company of the municipality, Harmat-Kert Ltd., was reported last October for suspected fraud by the capital's city management company, BKM Ltd., as covered first by Népszava. An internal investigation at BKM revealed a nearly 70 million forint asset shift favoring Harmat-Kert Ltd., which undertook the maintenance of the city's cemeteries for 1.2 billion forints. In simple terms, this means they overcharged by said amount. Palocsai questions why the upkeep of green spaces would cost a gross of 850 million forints annually from June 1, 2023, to May 31, 2024, when the contract from 2021 was valued at only a net total of 295.7 million forints equating to 147.8 million annually. Adding to the concern is the fact that the previous contractor, ZÖFE Ltd., managed three-quarters of the district's green spaces, while Harmat-Kert only tends to half. The remaining areas are maintained by the district's own company, Palota Holding. Notably, before 2021, this task was wholly managed by a municipal company that has since been dissolved.

The quality of maintenance work has been criticized, and the former director defended the poor performance by stating that the allocated budget could not secure sufficiently skilled labor. Consequently, the council decided to partially outsource the services instead of granting additional support. (They are not alone in this regard, as the majority of Budapest's 23 districts outsource park maintenance.)

The opposition representative is also curious about the exact amount Palota Holding spends on these services from its own budget but has not received such information despite his role as a municipal representative. According to the clerk's position at a committee meeting, council members exercise their supervisory rights through the supervisory board, indicating that even if data were requested on public interest grounds, it might not be readily released. As a result, the representative saw no other option than to propose the formation of a special investigative committee. He strongly hopes that the heavily opposition-dominated district will not shy away from scrutinizing the figures to obtain a clear picture of what presumably now costs over a billion forints, considering that in 2020, the municipal company handled the complete green space maintenance and other tasks for 350 million forints.

In connection with these developments, we inquired with Mayor Angéla Cserdiné Németh (DK). In her place, Tamás Hudák, the mayoral chief of staff, requested that the publication of the article be postponed instead of providing substantive answers, adding that he trusts the council will support the proposal's agenda. However, the clerk made a legal observation, criticizing that the committee's establishment was requested solely by Palocsai, whereas five representatives are needed for such action, and there was no specific nomination for all members and the chair of the committee. The council is set to decide on this proposal at the upcoming Thursday meeting.

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