History of Town Government
The history of government, both at the municipal and national levels, started in what today is Belize City. The history of Belize, which can be ascertained as far back as 1638, shows that the Settlement at that time was governed by magistrates elected annually from among the inhabitants. These magistrates enacted “Rules and Regulations” by which the settlement was governed. The meetings of these magistrates and the inhabitants were termed public meetings.
Later on, the official British presence in the colony led to numerous constitutional struggles and changes involving the local inhabitants and the British Crown. This, coupled with the expansion of the population countrywide, led to an enormous growth in the complexity of local administration and government. It was not until the tumultuous influx of refugees from Yucatan in the middle nineteenth century, however, that the need for some reform of local government made itself felt.
The Superintendent of the settlement of Belize, as early as 1856, made a recommendation that a local government organ titled a Town Board should be set up. This suggestion was not implemented until 1865 when the Legislative Assembly passed a Bill to establish a Municipal Board. At that time the Belize District Board was composed of nominated members, and the Colonial Secretary was the Chairman. When the Belize Town Board came into existence in 1911 it was composed of eight elected and two nominated members.
Persons eligible to vote for elected members in 1911 had to be males over twenty one years of age, who either owned property valued at over 60 dollars per annum, rented property valued at 96 dollars, or made an annual salary of 300 dollars.
Although the functions and powers of the Town Board have been changed from time to time, its main responsibility has always been to run the city. In earlier times it seems that it was chiefly concerned with work pertaining to the appearance of the city such as laying out roads and draining lots. This work must have been really important because the then governor, addressing the Legislative Council in 1927 not only congratulated the Town Board but went on to state: “The Government recognizes so fully the importance and value of work that a grant-in-aid to the Town Board for its continuation is the only provision for works of progress contained in the estimates for the coming year, all others being ruled out by want of money.”
District Town Boards were established by the District Town Boards Ordinance of 1938. Originally, the members of these Districts Boards were composed of five to seven nominated members, including the District Medical Officer with the District Commissioner as Chairman. The Stann Creek District was the first to have an elective element in 1940. This was due to the comparative prosperity of the district due to its expanding citrus industry. The experience and qualifications of the small middle-class of businessmen, and a few retired civil servants, made an elected Town Board possible. In other towns it was unusual for them to be professional men, since most were landowners, chicle contractors or storeowners.
Unlike the members of the Belize City Council, those on the District Town Boards were unpaid and both their work and their budgets were strictly limited until 1952 when an annual grant was provided for sanitation purposes. (From Town Government, by former Chief Librarian Larry Vernon)
In 1943 the Belize Town Board changed its name to the Belize City Council during the administration of Mayor Fred Gabb.