|Bojnice joint municipal office|
|Service Areas:||Culture and Education, Infrastructure, Social Services, Urban Planning|
|Municipalities:||Bojnice, Cigel, Chvojnica, Kanianka, Klacno, Kocurany, Kos, Lazany, Malinova, Nedozery-Brezany, Nitrianske Pravno, Opatovce, Poluvsie, Poruba, Pravenec, Sebedrazie, Sutovce, Tuzina|
|Contact persons:||Vlasta Hurtova|
|Legal form:||Public law agreement|
The problem here was the same as in other Slovak municipalities; each of them received competencies within the decentralization process and to find the most suitable form for their administration. They searched for a reliable and professional administration in highly specialized and important fields, yet were aware of very limited financial possibilities. Within the decentralization process, the opportunity was offered to administer such powers by joint municipal offices. Municipalities of this region recognized that it is the only suitable form of administration for them, although they had no previous experiences with such arrangement. The clearest situation was in the administration of professional aspects of teaching in schools. They could not fulfil the status of School Office (and obtain subsidies per professional staff costs coverage) without having at least 1,000 pupils. Alternatively, they would be managed in this field directly by the state administration at the regional level. A large number of pupils combined from other municipalities made it possible for the school administration to be less distant, which allowed a certain level of staff specialization. Concerning land use planning and building permits, municipalities were mainly interested in having a professional and reliable administration at affordable costs. They avoided direct administration because of the high costs. A prompt managed joint effort led to the establishment of an operational joint office.
After years of joint municipal office practice, they had a professional, reliable, affordable administration, without any complaints by citizens, evaluated positively by the supervising state administration.
The competencies of this joint municipal office are multi-purpose. The first set of competences consisted in land use planning and issuing building permits (building decisions processes, building permits, decisions on building use, supervision of construction activities, and delinquency penalties, etc.), local road planning and building administration, and processes of expropriation (expropriation of land and buildings in the public interest). Another area is the administration of social services (mostly managing home care services for the elderly). The third main field of action is school administration, which focuses on professional matters concerning education processes and school catering (organizational guidance for school principals, professional and advisory support to teachers according to level and subjects of teaching, including additional training and seminars, and completion of statistics and reports required by state administration). The main field of school administration concerns 12 primary schools (nine years of schooling, with about 2,400 pupils) working in participating municipalities.
The Joint Municipal Office of Bojnice serves 18 municipalities, including the city of Bojnice, which is the largest, with almost 5,000 inhabitants out of a total population of 28,467 (as at 1 January 2008). Five municipalities have populations under 1,000 and nine municipalities have 1,000 to 2,000 inhabitants. All municipalities are located in the northern and central part of the district of Prievidza, including the suburbs of this city, (population of 50,919 as at 31 December 2006). This city did not participate in the joint office activities. Nonetheless, some of the joint municipal office employees, responsible for selected competencies (in addition to school administration), have their offices located directly on the territory of this city. This joint municipal office is one of the largest ones in Slovakia due to the number of its competencies. At present, it has seven full-time employees covering all of these above fields. Three specialists (including the Chair of the Joint Office) administer tasks related to land use planning and building permits, expropriation and local roads. One specialist manages competences in social services, and two specialists administer competences in school administration (one focusing on kindergardens, one on primary schools). They are supported by one administrative worker for routine clerical tasks.
The Joint Municipal Office is mostly financed from two main sources – state subsidies and contributions provided by participating municipalities. The financial contribution provided by municipalities increased from SKK5 per capita in 2003 to SKK40 (EUR1.33) in 2008. This increase reflects increasing costs (e.g. increase of salaries, more staff needed due to the increase in number of decisions); however, subsidies are stagnating to some extent The school administration section of the Joint Office is in principle fully financed by this subvention. The Ministry of Education provides a subsidy to joint school offices covering small operating costs and the salary of one professional per 1,000 pupils (e.g. EUR740 per month, all related obligatory insurance payments, and EUR0.50 operating costs per pupil in administered schools in 2009). The Joint Municipal Office has its own bank account, and all transactions can be traced to a particular municipality.
The Joint Municipal Office has been established by an agreement of the participating municipalities in accordance with Municipal Act 369/1990 as amended. It has been in operation since April 2003, starting with administration of powers in building permits, roads and social services. The powers of expropriation and school administration were added by means of an amendment later in 2004. Like other Joint Municipal offices, this Office is not an independent legal body. It works within the structure of City Office of Bojnice as a separate unit. It prepares all necessary administrative documents, which are then signed by the mayors of the respective municipalities.
Monitoring and evaluation of the Joint Office operations are well defined in the Agreement on the Joint Municipal Office, and particularly focused on financial issues. The supervisory body is the Council of Statutory Representatives. Each municipality has its own representative in this body, which is usually its mayor. The Joint Municipal Office submits a quarterly report on financial issues and an annual report on financial issues. The Council of Statutory Representatives evaluates the activity of the Joint Municipal Office and can adopt decisions concerning the basic operational framework by simple majority vote. The representatives are called for a meeting four times a year by the Mayor of Bojnice. Mayors of participating municipalities are well informed on all details of the joint office’s operations, since they frequently visit the office for signing decisions concerning activities in their municipality.
Municipalities started to deal with the issue of transferred powers quickly after the central-level decision on the decentralization of selected powers to the local level. After brief considerations of alternatives, they decided to establish a joint office administration. The first idea was to establish a joint office in the main urban centre – Prievidza, but an agreement between the city and rest of municipalities was not reached. As a result, the next best solution was to establish this office in Bojnice. It is a neighbouring city of Prievidza, but both cities together in fact form one compact urban agglomeration, well served by public transport. This smaller city was a suitable choice, since the largest, best located municipality has its own City Office. The mayors also decided to locate a certain sections of the joint office in the city centre of Prievidza, which was ideal for providing good access to all mayors and citizens. For this reason, the staff administering the timetable for building permits, expropriation, roads and social services is located in Prievidza. The school administration section of the Office remains in Bojnice. The nature of its activities does not require frequent contact with the mayors and only provides some services to citizens.
The Joint Municipal Office was established by combining expertise of mayors, the City Office in Bojnice and staff with previous work experience in the state administration. They were able to find a suitable form of joint office operating efficiently. Permanent support to joint office operations is provided by Bojnice Municipality (e.g. financial operations and supervision, office services and equipment). While the school administration section is located in the Bojnice school building (whose owner is Bojnice Municipality), the rest of the administration is located in rented space (in Prievidza).
The main success factors:
The joint municipal office in principle allows for local management of important local affairs. It prepares decisions in line with all legislation for mayors, who are informed and supervise activities on their territory and can intervene within the legislation if needed. For the participating municipalities, a very clear argument is cost-efficiency achieved by participation in the Joint Office. They know that there is no possibility to have such professional and cheap administration under the individual administration within their local offices. Although their contribution to running the joint office is growing systematically, they would face an even sharper increase in costs under an individual administration of these tasks. The main pressure is related to a general increase in personnel costs – salaries, insurance payments, and to lesser extent, operating costs. The current arrangement with the Joint Municipal Office means an important cost saving for the municipalities. In this case, a municipality with a population of 1,000 would obtain government subsidies for approximately one month to cover the administration of these powers. The costs of administration for the rest of the year would be covered by municipal budget. It is not surprising that municipalities logically turned to joint municipal office administration. They calculate that their financial contribution to the joint office slightly exceeds the equivalent of one month of expenditures if administered individually.
The administration is now more accessible for citizens who used to arrange these agendas in the city of Prievidza. Now they can arrange them at their Local Office, which transfers their applications and documents to the Joint Office located in Prievidza. If they need consultations or a rapid decision, they can easily travel to the city centre in Prievidza.
While it is better for citizens and mayors that the joint office is located in Prievidza and not in Bojnice (for reasons of accessibility), there is one disadvantage. The Joint Office is located in rented office space, which means extra costs shared by all municipalities.
There were no special initial costs required during the foundation period. The necessary equipment and facilities have been provided by the City Office of Bojnice.
Municipalities do not fully agree with the principle that financial transfers from the Central State should be calculated per capita (for land use planning and building permits, local and service roads. The number of decisions on the agenda does not depend on the population figure, e.g. construction activities in some municipalities close to the district city are extremely intensive (many more buildings and more reconstruction works in one municipality, which means many more decisions for the Joint Office benefiting this municipality). Nevertheless, they understand that it is very clear distribution principle.
The work of the Joint Municipal Office in now well established and there are almost no discussions concerning its operations, which it carries out strictly within national legislation in administering powers, internally following rules set by signed agreement and general rules set by the City Office of Bojnice. It is smooth operating office, and no special joint decisions are needed from the Supervisory Council of Statutory Representatives of participating municipalities.
There are no plans to extend the fields of joint municipal office operations. This issue could be considered if some new powers would be transferred to municipalities. Municipalities have already successfully settled other competences within their own offices.
There is a very slight chance that the number of participating municipalities will be changed. The surrounding region is divided among a group of joint municipal offices and there have been no changes in membership municipalities from 2003 until now.
Participating municipalities are not concerned with changing the legal status of the joint administration of powers. They consider the current form suitable and its operations full satisfactory.
The Joint Municipal Office of Bojnice takes advantage of the opportunities provided by legislation. It found reasonable model of operations accepted by all stakeholders (municipalities, their citizens, joint office, etc.). It confirms applicability of this model throughout the country to small municipalities working in a similar legal and financial environment.
The Central Government offered a very flexible legal environment and transferred a small amount of resources to administer these powers by the municipalities. A higher level of state administration also supports the transfer of experiences. Representatives of joint municipal offices have been invited to coordination meetings organized by the specialized state administration (e.g. the Regional Building Office, the Regional School Office of the State Administration) where they presented their experiences in and approaches for the implementation of competencies.
The activities of the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia are deemed sufficient. They were very supportive during the set-up period, which served as a useful platform for sharing experiences.
Representatives of the Joint Municipal Office are willing to share their experiences and details concerning their operations and organization.
The information about this practice was collected and presented by Jan Bucek.