That’s the official line, but the results remain to be seen
Big changes are coming down the pipe next year in terms of how people interact with their local authorities and what services to expect. The reform of local government is an immense undertaking. On the plus side, the average Joe and Jane doesn’t need to do anything, like re-register. Officials say the economies of scale from the mergers of municipalities and communities should result in lower fees, but that remains to be seen.
“The whole idea is to provide better, faster service and improve quality of life,” said a senior officer with the interior ministry.
Already politicians are lining up for the June 2024 local government elections. July 1, 2024 is the official date for when the new system of local government kicks in.
Former transport minister and ex-Ayia Napa mayor Yiannis Karousos has thrown his name in the hat for the new position of head of the district council for Famagusta. Kyriacos Xydas, current mayor of Germasogeia, has announced his candidacy for the position of the to-be-created new municipality of Eastern Limassol. And Akel have named the individuals who will run for municipal councilors on the board of the new borough of Geroskipou.
New words, new terms. So first things first. Under the new system, across the island 18 new Metropolitan municipalities will emerge from the fusion of the 28 current municipalities and 63 local communities. In addition, two municipalities (those of Paphos and Strovolos) will remain as is, for a total of 20 municipalities – down from 30 now.
The Metropolitan municipalities will be granted more financial autonomy. They will gain new responsibilities and competences in domains such as social affairs, permit issuing, local infrastructure maintenance, environmental protection and quality of life, and schools.
Meanwhile we will get 30 ‘local clusters’ (a new type of public-law organisation) for the remaining 286 communities – those not merged with municipalities. The clusters will provide aggregated services (collection and general waste management, secretariat provision, accounting and technical services). These administrative bodies will provide a wider range of services and will support the community councils in discharging their obligations.
And five new ‘district councils’ will be set up. The existing sewerage councils, water supply councils, solid waste management and urban planning authorities, will all be merged at the district level.
The new municipalities will have expanded jurisdictions – like setting up a municipal police force, taking charge of school boards as of 2029 and road maintenance. But they won’t have jurisdiction over town planning or building permits – these powers will go to the aforementioned district councils.
Right now, whenever someone wants a land division permit or to make amendments to their house, they have to go through the rigmarole – visit the district officer, then town planning authorities, then other services. This will stop under the new streamlined system with the concentration of powers.
We asked the interior ministry source what will happen, say, in the case where a certain municipality currently offers a certain service while another municipality doesn’t. For instance, only Aglandja has a pay-as-you-throw system.
“As far as this example goes, by law all municipalities will be required to switch to pay-as-you-throw,” the source said.
Politically and organisationally, in the various districts we will have Metropolitan municipalities, and beneath them the boroughs. A ‘super mayor’ heads up a Metropolitan municipality, and a deputy mayor leads a borough. Deputy mayors will get elected by residents of that borough alone.
As for the ‘super mayor’, he or she will be elected by the residents of all the boroughs falling within the Metropolitan municipality in question.
For the Nicosia district, five Metropolitan municipalities will take shape. They will be known as the Nicosia, Lakatamia, Latsia-Geri, Southern Nicosia-Dali and Strovolos municipalities.
The Nicosia Metropolitan municipality itself breaks down into the boroughs of Nicosia, Ayios Dhometios, Engomi and Aglandja.
Bottom line: five Metropolitan municipalities in the Nicosia district will come about from the merger of the 16 existing local authorities – 10 municipalities and six communities.
In Larnaca district, likewise there will be five Metropolitan municipalities – Larnaca, Aradippou, Dromolaxia-Meneou, Lefkara, and Athienou. The Larnaca Metropolitan municipality will consist of the boroughs of Larnaca and Livadia, plus the village of Voroklini.
Moreover, a borough will elect its municipal councilors – separately and according to the number of councilor positions allocated to that borough. The councilors then act as delegates to the Metropolitan municipality, and all together will form a central municipal council.
The Metropolitan or ‘super’ mayor may delegate to the deputy mayors any powers he or she wishes, so that the latter can handle matters specific to their borough. For instance, the ‘super mayor’ can delegate to a deputy mayor the authority to sign official documents pertaining to the specific borough. The ‘super mayors’ can also take back any such powers delegated.
To fund all this, the annual state grant to the 20 municipalities will go up to €117 million from €72 million today. For the communities formed into clusters, the state grant remains the same.
Each borough will have its own budget. The intended expenditures will be recorded and then sent onto the Metropolitan municipality. Say a deputy mayor wants to convert a green area into a venue for public events; he or she will take the proposal to the borough council, and then to the Metropolitan municipality for final approval – without needing to involve ministers or central government agencies as is currently the case.
As far as the municipal police goes, every Metropolitan municipality will have one. Municipal traffic wardens, for instance, will also be able to check vehicles. Obviously criminal matters will remain the domain of the ‘normal’ police.
And under the reform, seaside municipalities will acquire extra jurisdictions. Currently, all such powers are concentrated at the Beaches Central Committee. But in the future a seaside municipality will have the authority, for instance, to bar any interventions on the beach.
But will the new arrangements result in lower fees for services? According to our source, they should.
“Instead of having five accounting departments, with all their employees, you’ll have one department. So, yes, logically there are savings to be had,” she offered.