|Rybany joint municipal office|
|Service Areas:||Environment, Social Services, Urban Planning|
|Municipalities:||Rybany, Borcany, Dezerice, Dolne Nastice, Chuda Lehota, Libichava, Male Hoste, Nedasovce, Pecenany, Pochabany, Pravotice, Sisov, Velke Hoste, Vysocany, Zlatniky|
|Contact persons:||Elena Magdolenova, Zuzana Magdolenova|
|Legal form:||Public law agreement|
The main reason that drove municipalities to joint action was the transfer of powers to municipalities within the decentralization processes. Very small municipalities quickly recognized the need for joint administration, since none of them could effectively execute transferred powers. All of them were too small to hire professional staff and provide salaries. Many of them have few local office employees (e.g. some have only a mayor and an accountant) and limited budgets. They had no other choice; they were forced into cooperation, since they were not able to deal with transferred competencies in any other way.
Municipalities and their political representation must avoid difficulties in the administration of new powers. It could damage their reputation as elected representatives in the eyes of their electorate. This is of particular concern to mayors who are directly elected. They are identified with all tasks, successes and failures, especially in very small municipalities (i.e. participating municipalities). They prefer a transparent, smooth takeover of competences. Citizens should not perceive any difference from the previous arrangements within the State Administration; they should experience a smooth transfer. Building permits and daycare services are particularly sensitive issues for citizens. The mayors were also aware that any mistakes in decision making can be challenged in court. They needed reliable long-term implementation of all tasks at reasonable costs for the municipality. In addition to cost savings, they also needed professional staff to fulfil qualification requirements set by legislation, especially regarding legal advice within the Joint Office. This is related to transfer of powers in general – mayors are obligated to enter into contracts, organize tenders and prepare more by-laws than previously. They would pay much more if individually asked for advice from specialized law companies.
The scope of joint municipal office activity is multipurpose. Building permits and territorial planning administration are the most extensive competencies (building decisions, building permits, decisions on building use, supervision of construction activities, penalties for delinquency, etc.). Social services are less extensive and concentrated on administration of daycare services, mostly for elderly, as well as for long- term care for ill and disabled persons (managing social workers who take care for the elderly in their homes, provide meals, shop, accompany them to doctors and provide other basic nursing services). Environmental and landscape protection competencies administered at the local level are also not extensive, focusing on tree protection (tree cutting permits, forced cutting for security reasons, planting of new trees, etc.). The Joint Office also uses expertise of its Chair, who has a degree in law and necessary training needed for specific legal agendas. As a result, it provides legal advice to municipalities (preparation of draft by-laws and tender documentation, drafting of contracts, etc.).
The Joint Municipal Office serves 15 municipalities with a population of 6,906 (as of 31 December 2007). It is a group of very small rural municipalities, 11 of which have less than 500 inhabitants. The seat of the Joint Municipal Office is the largest municipality, with almost 1,500 habitants (1,486 as of 31 December 2007).
The Joint Municipal Office is established on the basis of an agreement of the participating municipalities on the establishment of a joint municipal office, according to Municipal Act 369/1990 as amended. There were adopted amendments to this agreement since its signing in 2002. The Joint Municipal Office is not an independent legal body. It acts within the structure of Local Office of Rybany Municipality. It prepares all the necessary administrative regulations that are then signed by the mayors of the municipality concerned.
Although there are three officials who perform the tasks in this office, the work requires only two full-time staff. The Chair of the Joint Office provides legal advice and supervises activities of the entire office: it is part-time job, in addition to his/her main job as Chair of Municipal Office in Rybany (and part-time Mayor of the small municipality of Nedasovce). The second employee administers land use planning and the building permits agenda: this is also part-time job (60 percent); he/she also works for another neighbouring joint office located in the Uhrovec Municipality, where he/she administers the same agenda (a part-time job). The third post is full-time: he or she is responsible for daycare services administration and environmental and landscape protection activities. All staff fulfil the needed professional expertise requirements set by national legislation. The Chair of the Joint Municipal Office and the specialist in building permits and planning have previous experience in state administration.
The Joint Municipal Office is financed by contributions of participating municipalities and a subsidy by the Central Government. The state transfer for implementation of these tasks was marginal due to the size of the municipalities. The contribution of participating municipalities is calculated by on a per month and per capita fee basis. It slightly increased since the establishment of the joint office, now at EUR0.27. (For example, for a municipality with 500 inhabitants, the contribution would be slightly over EUR1,600 a year). In fact, due to the very small size of the municipalities, they pay more individually than what they would have to pay in joint offices that cover a larger territory and population, just over EUR20 a year in total for the entire Joint Office. Running costs of the Office are covered by Rybany Municipality according to the inter-municipality solidarity principle. As the largest municipality, with a central position and a better financial situation, Rybany has internalized part of the costs into its municipal budget. It holds the prime and central role in the region and enjoys a Joint Municipal Office in-house, which is considered suitable and flexible. The Joint Office has a separate bank account.
Accountability primarily concerns the relationship between citizens and mayors of participating municipalities. Due to the administrative nature of the Joint Office, it must follow general rules on administration set by national legislation. The work of the Joint Office is regularly monitored at meetings of mayors of participating municipalities, at least once a year (formally required by establishing an agreement). The sensitivity of the specific situation that one of the mayors is also the Chair of the Joint Office (a possible conflict of interest) is mitigated because the Joint Office is obligated to carry out most of its competencies in compliance with legislation, and decisions are signed by mayors of the respective municipalities. In fact since the meetings of mayors are more frequent, all necessary joint office work is discussed and adopted quickly. Joint offices operations concerning particular agendas are also regularly supervised and monitored by the higher level of state administration (regional offices, ministries). Financial aspects of joint office operations are also under the supervision of the Rybany Municipality’s main auditor (the municipal chief of internal audit) This is a required position within the Municipal Office, according to national legislation)
The main success factors:
In initiating the Joint Municipal Office, the mayors of municipalities began to consider possibilities of transferring administering powers to local self-governments. They had already developed cooperation and coordination within the Regional Association of Municipalities, so they had a forum to discuss potential solutions. They quickly recognized that the Joint Municipal Office is the only possibility for them. During one of their meetings, they decided on a joint municipal office; an agreement was subsequently prepared. Within a few months, the Agreement was approved and signed by all municipalities. The reason for this was that the larger district city (Banovce nad Bebravou) did not act quickly and they decided not to wait for its initiative. Mayors quickly contacted staff experienced in administering such competencies (working then with the State Administration or with previous experiences with such competencies). They found two professional staff members who could help the mayors in preparation and establishing the Joint Office. It began to operate immediately since new powers were transferred to the municipalities (as of January 2003). One of professionals moved directly from the state administration to the joint office; in fact, he administers the same powers as before. The entire preparation period took about half a year.
During this period, no special external help was needed (with the exception of the above professionals, i.e. the future staff of the Joint Office). The Municipalities followed the current legislation, the Agreement was relatively simple, and short-term, positive effects attracted experienced staff to the Joint Office. It should be noted that the municipalities originally planned on a much wider scope of competences for the Joint Office, but it was later streamlined by an amendment to the Agreement.
The specific role in the creation and operations of the Joint Office belongs to Rybany Municipality (its Mayor and municipal employees) as the leading local settlements centre. The elected representatives have recognized its leading role in the surrounding region. The Mayor of Rybany is a respected mayor with vast experience (serving as the directly elected mayor since 1990). Rybany self-government has offered preferential conditions to the joint office operation. The Chair of the Local Office is working part-time as the Chair of the Joint Municipal Office. The Joint Office uses office space within the Local Office at no cost. The costs of electricity and heating are also covered by Rybany Municipality, which substantially reduces the running costs of the Joint Office, and results in expenditure savings of the participating small municipalities. A withdrawal of Rybany from covering these running costs would probably not threaten the operations of the Joint Office, but it has not considered doing this.
The most important benefit is cost savings for each municipality, including Rybany, the seat of the Joint Office. The municipalities could not afford to carry out these tasks individually. They consider this form of administration to be efficient. They prefer to have such powers under their control, but they are aware that they do not have the resources in their budgets to pay professionals for such work, even on a part-time basis. This reasoning was fully respected by local councils and citizens. Local self-governments in small municipalities generally suffer from a lack of financial resources.
Based on very simple calculation, understandable even for citizens, mayors and local councils concluded that it was better to pay a few thousand euros to the joint office than to pay persons directly, arrange office space, etc. Also, there would hardly be enough work in each municipality. Each mayor presented simple calculations of all costs to their councils before they decided to participate in the Joint Office. Even in the case of two part-time jobs in the municipal office, total expenditures would be about three to four times higher than in the Joint Office.
The initial costs were shared by participating municipalities, but in principle based on a gentleman’s agreement. In their budgets, the mayors covered the purchase of necessary equipment (e.g. one bought a computer, another bought carpeting, etc.). They considered it as reasonable contribution balanced by long-term savings provided by joint office operations.
It seems that the participating municipalities are satisfied with the joint office services. The Joint Municipal Office works professionally; no important shortcomings have been observed.
Mayors and citizens consider the establishment of the Joint Office and the transfer of powers to be a good decision. Important local matters are much more locally managed than before. The Joint Office is more accessible and flexible for citizens as well as for local self-governments; they manage their investments more simply. The State Officials consider this more direct accountability of the administration more suitable than the previous administration.
The seat of the Joint Municipal Office is considered the natural centre of region by the mayors and has been identified with the leading position of this municipality for a long time. There is no reduced accountability in this case, because all decisions are prepared by the Joint Office only and must be signed by the mayor of the municipality concerned. The elected local representatives have the final word. Citizens prefer this approach because their representatives manage their matters. They can leave their applications and documents at their respective local office, which are later transferred to the Joint Office, or they can bring them directly to the Joint Office, especially when they need a quick decision.
The Joint Municipal Office is, for most of the municipalities, geographically closer than the previous office of the State Administration.
There are no plans to expand the areas of joint administration. The scope of the joint administration was reduced at the beginning after a detailed breakup of powers. The current scope is considered reasonable. An expansion of powers is possible and is related to the aims of Central State to decentralize other powers (e.g. more powers in social services) to municipalities. Assessment will be carried out on whether it would be better to execute them on an individual or joint office basis.
The number of partners will be probably not change in the future. The number of participating municipalities has already been reduced from 18 to 15. The reason was for this was better accessibility for the withdrawing municipalities to the neighbouring large urban centre (the former district city, Banovce nad Bebravou), which established its own joint office. This office was unoperational at the beginning of the transfer of powers. The Joint Office in this urban centre increased the number of participating municipalities from 7 to 13, attracting municipalities to join it. The legal form is considered suitable, open and sufficiently flexible.
The following is considered essential in establishing a successful IMC:
These experiences can be replicated within Slovakia with some adjustments. The municipalities believe that they have created an efficient and Joint Office.
Since IMC is expanding slowly in some fields, encouragement is needed. It could have particular needs, e.g. financial assistance to municipalities participating in IMC to access to specially designed projects and subsidies.
The participating municipalities considered the current activities of the Association of Municipalities to be adequate because they promote joint offices and represent their interests, and organize meetings to share experiences.
Being one of the first operating joint offices, its staff frequently advises other joint offices in the field of their operations. They are prepared to share their experiences now and in the future. This Joint Municipal Office was also used as a case study for other studies, such as those prepared by the Ministry of the Interior.
The information about this practice was collected and presented by Jan Bucek.