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Cyprus

The ‘good’ municipality

Tseri mayor Alkiviades Constantinou

Unlike most of its counterparts, Tseri’s books are in the black but its mayor is concerned about what a future merger might mean for its savings account

 

WHILE local authority reform has been a long time in the works, the interior ministry wants it pushed – and passed – by the new parliament.

Although the plan is a cluster of services to start with such as maintenance, rubbish and road cleaning, the state’s long term plan is to merge local municipalities.

Unchartered territory, this leaves a lot of questions and concerns. For instance, Tseri mayor Alkiviades Constantinou, who has been mayor since 2012, said his municipality hasn’t undertaken huge projects – due to the financial crisis and fewer staff – and as a result is not in debt.

The municipality has some €4m in the bank but as it borders Lakatamia and Strovolos it leaves Tseri exposed to a possible merger with a local authority that has high debts.

“It doesn’t mean that Lakatamia for instance hasn’t managed their finances well. They’ve just taken up a lot of projects and have more debt,” Constantinou told the Sunday Mail.

The state has also reduced funding to local authorities, thus limiting sources of income, he added, contributing to higher accumulation of debt.

Merging would mean profits Tseri has accumulated and saved up, are absorbed by a municipality that owes more money.

“What benefit does Tseri get if it joins a municipality that owes money?  It may not care for Tseri’s projects,” Constantinou said.

“I believe these are matters that will be resolved by the state and provisions need to be included in the bill submitted to parliament,” he added.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t merge,” Constantinou said. “I just think we should start with the services first, see how that goes and take it from there.”

This is what the government intends to do.

If and when the bill is passed, an advisory committee will be set up that will have six months to submit proposals to the interior ministry on how to begin clustering the services.

Several criteria will be considered including demographics, geographical factors such as municipal boundaries, and cultural matters.

Constantinou however still has concerns.

“Will they work properly? For example, if Tseri municipality merges with Lakatamia or Strovolos, will the new mayor care about Tseri the way I do? There’s some projects in the works. Will he care for them or leave it [the area] to be [just] a village?”

For instance, there are plans to improve the main Tseri road with new pavements, road drains and underground work, something the mayor says is an important project for the safety of the pubic but also for boosting development.

A new mayor however may not prioritise it the way Constantinou does and may prefer to focus on bigger projects in bigger areas, he said.

Additionally, there is also the personal contact that Constantinou fears may be lost.

“I know half the people here. We’ve established a relationship. We have projects, there’s food banks. I have direct contact with the residents. What happens then?”

 

With a merger of municipalities, there will inevitably be a loss of this personal contact, the mayor said.

“With a much larger area, it’s difficult to have that.”

Where services are concerned though, Constantinou believes it’s the right way forward.

Of course there are some concerns such as rubbish collection. “The offer we got was really good. Other municipalities might pay more.”

Nevertheless, these are problems that can be resolved, he believes.

Apart from reducing the cost of local authorities when the services become clustered,

Although he wants any staff that may lose their job compensated, in the long term, Constantinou believes services should be clustered as a first step.

“If it goes well then yes municipalities should be merged. But to do that, it needs to be proven with studies not just for the sake of it.”

“Clustering services will bring immediate results to citizens because it will reduce the cost of available services,” and at the same time improve the quality of service, Constantinou said “which is what the goal should be.”

He said if it was determined that clustering municipalities has positive results and improves the lives of residents, it should happen but not just “so we can say we’ve reduced the number of municipalities.”

The interior ministry says this is the plan in any case. This won’t happen overnight and could take a few years to properly see how the municipalities and residents have adjusted and responded. The main goal it the public good, a ministry official said.

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