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Horezu Valley association

From Municipal Cooperation

Horezu Valley association
Service Areas: Socio-Economic Development, Public Safety
Country: Romania
Municipalities: Horezu, Costeşti, Măldăreşti, Vaideeani, Slătioara
Contact persons: Adrian Andreescu, Eugen Săvulescu
Legal form: Public law association
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Coordinates: 45° 7' 14" N, 23° 54' 49" E


Description of the problem/need for IMC

Cooperation between these municipalities was driven by these factors:

  • Horezu is the administrative centre for the region, concentrating services in the field of health, education, management of emergency situation, fiscal administration, legal services and courts, etc. There was always an administrative relationship between the five municipalities. The town of Horezu also acts as the economic centre of the region, where services such as banking and insurance that are lacking in the neighbouring municipalities are concentrated
  • There are some services currently provided by Horezu to the neighbouring municipalities, supported only by Horezu Municipality Funds – management of emergency situations and the population registry.
  • There is a need to attract funding for local projects, especially for infrastructure, which is still inadequate (road, sewage facilities, poor waste management facilities).
  • There is need to stimulate local economic development, since the unemployment rate is high and local businesses are weak.
  • There is need in the area for collaborative promotion of tourist attractions such as Hurez Monastery, which is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO)-protected monument, the Woman’s Cave, traditional fabrics and pottery workshops, 16th century fortified manor houses, 15th, 16th and 17th century churches, two natural reservations, mineral water springs, mountain climbing, folk culture festivals, etc.).

Description of the IMC practice

Areas of cooperation

  1. Tourism infrastructure development and tourism promotion

Several projects have been initiated, promoted and implemented in cooperation in this area. The beginning of cooperation in this area was marked by small-scale projects, including: installation of route indicators providing information on all tourism objectives in the region; the affiliation of the Horezu Valley Association with the National Association for Rural, Ecological and Cultural Tourism (ANTREC); and the involvement of Association representatives in tourism fairs all over Europe. A particularly interesting project in the field of tourism promotion was developed in partnership with a local NGO, which focused on training local businessmen in eco-tourism and marketing eco-tourism activities.

The first large project initiated and promoted in this area was focused on the rehabilitation and development of general and tourism infrastructure, including renovation work on several monuments, road repairs to facilitate access to some of the tourism objectives, setting up of a joint tourism information office and the construction of facilities for the organization of local festivals, among others. The estimated value of project was approximately EUR4.5 million. The project was accepted for funding, but the contract was never signed because the Ministry of Regional Development failed to complete a procurement procedure on time.

A major achievement in this area has been the inclusion in 2007 of the Horezu Valley Association, based on a project developed and formulated by the Association in the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) programme, Phase II, Local Intangible Heritage, 2007–2008; details can be found at:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/tourism/docs/eden_implementation/eden2_eden_presentation_en.pdf.

  1. Strategic planning and institutional development for the Association and the Member Municipalities

With funding from the Poland and Hungary: Assistance for Restructuring their Economies (PHARE) programme, the first project in this area was successfully implemented, focusing on several areas:

  • drafting, submitting to public debate, and approving a joint development strategy for the five municipalities that initially formed the Horezu Valley Association and five neighbouring municipalities;
  • expanding the membership of the association to ten, by including the neighbouring municipalities;
  • training of personnel from all ten municipalities on issues such as local development, fundraising and project management, public participation methods, etc;
  • setting up an office and a conference room and buying equipment for the Association.

The main results of this process are the development strategy and the training of 3-5 civil servants from each of the ten municipalities (initial members and municipalities in the process of becoming members) in order to involve them in the implementation of the joint development strategy.

  1. Joint management of emergency situations

The Municipality of Horezu had already been delivering this service for the entire region at its own expense, which was considerable – RON200,000 out of a total annual municipality budget of RON1,500,000. Since the other municipalities at this point in time were not in the position of contributing to maintaining this service due to limited budgets, the municipalities agreed that Horezu would continue to deliver the service and an alternative solution was sought to cover investment costs aimed at improving the quality of service. On behalf of all ten municipalities in the region, the Municipality of Horezu developed, promoted and obtained PHARE funding for these investments.

Municipalities involved

The Association includes the town of Horezu, and the communes of Costeşti, Măldăreşti, Vaideeni and Slătioara. The municipalities are situated in the mountain area in Vâlcea County, south-western Romania, 45 km from the county capital of Râmnicu Vâlcea. The highest altitude of the administrative area is 1,915 m, while the inhabited area is at 468–750 m.

Currently, the Association is in the process of accepting five other members, the Municipalities of Bărbăteşti, Tomeşti, Frânceşti, Oteşani and Stroeşti. After this process is completed, the Association will represent approximately 40,000 inhabitants.

Legal form of cooperation

In 2005, the Horezu Valley Association was established as an NGO (private legal entity). According to Statute, this organization was led by a Council of Directors with five members (the mayors of the five municipalities). Also according to statute, the President of the Association is the Mayor of Horezu, while the Mayor of Vaideeni is the Secretary General of the organization (Horezu and Vaideeni being the municipalities that initiated the establishment of the Association). The municipalities are represented in this Association based on the “one municipality, one vote” principle. Decision-making is, according to statute, majority-based, but usually there is a consensus. According to Romanian law, certain decisions of the Association still need to be ratified by each Local Council (use of public property, co-financing of projects from municipality budgets). In 2006, this Association changed its legal status into an inter-community development association (ICDA) with multiple competences (quasi-public law body), but maintained all other provisions of the Statute. Currently, a new statute of the Association is under discussion, since there is need for a new structure that will accommodate ten members.

Staff serving the municipalities

The Association does not have its own staff, but each municipality has delegated staff, based on a decision of the Mayor. There are 30–35 civil servants in all ten municipalities who work for the Association, who usually work part-time when needed. All of them have received training as part of the institutional development project.

Financing

The financing of the Horezu Valley Association comes from grants from governmental and EU sources, and co-financing is provided by member municipalities for specific projects. There are no membership fees. The Municipality of Horezu is providing in-kind contribution (office space, communication expenses, personhours of some civil servants).

Representatives of the Horezu Valley Association consider medium- and long-term sustainability as guaranteed, since it has passed the critical stage (immaterial results, failed projects) and can now ensure sufficient funding for its activity and the successful promotion of its projects.

Accountability to citizens

The PHARE-funded institutional development project, mentioned under the Strategic planning and institutional development for the association and the member municipalities area of cooperation, included a strong public participation component focused on training civil servants on citizen information, consultation and public participation issues, and the use of public participation tools in formulating the joint development strategy (public cafes, debates and other events organized by member municipalities). This component of the project, which significantly increased the amount of citizen information and the degree of involvement in the activities of the Association, was developed in partnership with Partners for Local Development Foundation (FPDL) and Resource Centre for Public Participation (CE-RE), two Bucharest-based NGOs.

Monitoring and evaluation

Constant monitoring of the Horezu Valley Association activities is carried out by the member municipalities since civil servants from all member municipalities are directly involved in day-to-day activities. Evaluation of the activity of the Association is carried out annually by member municipalities, based on annual progress and financial reports.

Establishment of the IMC practice

The Horezu Valley Association was established in 2005 at the initiative of the Mayors of Horezu and the neighbouring commune of Vaideeni. It was actually built on earlier plans to cooperate in 1994 and abandoned in 1996, because the Central Government changed regulations and the joint project for developing the natural gas supply network in the area could no longer be implemented. The initial concept for cooperation was inspired from some French examples and certain information obtained through the affiliation of the Horezu Municipality with the Romanian Association of Towns (AOR) and from the cooperation with a Bucharest-based NGO, FPDL.

After three more municipalities agreed in principle to cooperate, a statute was drafted and the Association was legally registered, with the status of NGO. In addition to procedures and decision-making structures, the Statute of the Association contained a reference to joint development objectives and projects. At this stage, no development strategy was drafted. No donor was involved in the process; the establishment of the Association was supported by local resources only.

The main difficulty in the process of establishing this Association was the reluctance to cooperate by some municipalities, since they were apprehensive that the town might take over the Association and its activity would not bring much benefit to the communes. For this reason, some of the municipalities declined their invitation to join. However, there are currently five municipalities in the process of joining the Association.

The main factors determining the success in establishing the Horezu Valley Association are:

  • the leadership provided by the Municipality of Horezu;
  • previous experiences in cooperation: although the gas project failed in term of results, it was successful in terms of cooperation;
  • homogeneity of the area: the municipalities have similar characteristics and similar problems, and consequently, the same objectives.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

The main direct benefit for Member Municipalities has been the possibility to promote projects for which they did not have financial and human resources to promote on their own.

The main direct benefits for the citizens to date are:

  • improved emergency situation services (due to the implementation of a PHARE-funded project in the area);
  • increased tourism in the area as a result of the promotional activity of the Association, which has led to the development of local tourism-related enterprises (shown by the increase in numbers of small hotels and private accommodations available to tourists).

Shortcomings

The shortcomings of the cooperation for the member municipalities are related to the expected lack of material results in the first one and a half years of activity, which led to a certain fatigue in cooperation. This was exacerbated by recalling an earlier attempt to cooperate (in the 1990s for a natural gas supply network) that failed due to a change in national regulations.

No shortcomings for citizens were identified. The distance from the service provider is not an issue since most administrative services are concentrated in the town of Horezu.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

At this point there are no plans to change the legal form of cooperation.

After the completion of the current process of expansion from five to ten members, no further expansionis envisaged, mainly because the current membership already covers the area of influence of the town of Horezu (i.e. all communities linked or which will eventually be linked in terms of administrative, education, health, local public utilities services, as well as type of economic activities and prospects for local economic development). Expansion of membership outside this area is not considered a good idea since common grounds (e.g. problems and objectives) for cooperation will be lost.

The expansion of the areas for cooperation is planned in line with the newly developed joint development strategy. The Association representatives prefer not to list these areas, since they might still be subject to change until the strategy is approved by all ten municipalities.

Main lessons learned on how to establish IMC and make it a success

Lesson 1: Leadership is essential: even if there is some reluctance to cooperate when a larger municipality takes charge of the process, it is essential for coherence and effectiveness.

Lesson 2: Homogeneity is important. Municipalities involved in such forms of cooperation should be similar in terms of problems and objectives, so that there is common ground for discussion. Diverging interests resulting from significant differences between municipalities leads to dispersed efforts and results may not always be satisfactory.

Lesson 3: Material results are not immediate. In the first years of cooperation, the results are negligible, covering small projects, and planning and co-ordination efforts only, which may discourage cooperation.

Replication is possible if other municipalities are determined to succeed. Since most associations of this type aim to fund their projects through the EU Structural Instruments, the Central Government could revise some of the procedures and eligibility requirements for funding, since some programmes exclude public or private legal entities formed by an association of municipalities from the list of eligible applicants. The associations of municipalities have limited activity in this field (e.g. the Association of Towns disseminates some information on IMC) and could do more in terms of exchanging experience and disseminating information.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The support provided to other municipalities consists of giving them access to relevant documents related to the establishment of the associations. The IMC shows willingness to receive them on site visits and offer advice. In the previous years, the Vâlcea County Council used documents provided by this Association to help other municipalities in the country with the legal aspects of IMC establishment.

Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Cristina Stanus.