Actions

Surany joint municipal office

From Municipal Cooperation

Surany joint municipal office
Service Areas: Infrastructure, Urban Planning
Country: Slovakia
Municipalities: Surany, Bardonovo, Cernik, Dedinka, Dolny Ohaj, Hul, Kmetovo, Komjatice, Lipova, Mana, Michal nad Zitavou, Mojzesovo, Podhajska, Pozba, Radava, Rastislavice, Travnica, Ulany nad Zitavou, Velky Kyr, Vlkas
Contact persons: Eva Augustinová, Jana Huckova
Legal form: Public law agreement
Loading map...
Coordinates: 48° 5' 18" N, 18° 10' 45" E
Photo 1 Good Practice Form for IMC Surany revised Bucek-FINAL.jpg
Photo 2 Good Practice Form for IMC Surany revised Bucek-FINAL.jpg

Description of the problem/need for IMC

Municipalities faced problems in executing their received competences from the decentralization process. It was difficult for them to implement all these tasks within own small offices. The main issues were the costs to administer these competencies, the need for professional staff and the inefficient use of staff.

Municipalities needed a smooth operating administration of decentralized powers immediately, from the day of the transfer. They decided on a joint implementation of an interrelated cluster of competencies in land use planning and building permit administration, expropriation (transferred later) and local and service roads. This is a specialized agenda, very sensitively perceived by local self-governments as well as by citizens. These powers also require specialized, well-educated staff. These tasks cannot easily be added to the workload of the staff already working within the local office of smaller municipalities. The mayors not wanting to fail in these fields, put pressure on various individual and private business development activities.

Description of the IMC practice

By far the most complicated competencies are those in land use planning and building permit administration (decision-making on building, building permits, decisions on the use of buildings, construction supervision, fines and penalties, support for the local Master Plan development, etc.). A minor aspect of the agenda concerns local roads’ planning and building administration, and expropriation. (Expropriation cases are rare and only possible for small investments, because these competencies for large investments are administered by the Regional Building Office of the State Administration). Powers of this office also focus on the compliance of all activities with national legislation (including technical standards), as well as regional and local by-laws (e.g. the local Master Plan).

There are 20 participating municipalities in this Joint Municipal Office. This number has not changed since its foundation in early 2003. The total population served by the Joint Office is 36,307 (as of 31 December 2007). Eight municipalities have less than 1,000 inhabitants Surany city serving as the seat of the Joint Municipal Office has 10,455 inhabitants (31 December 2007) and is the geographical regional centre for the surrounding territory.

The Joint Municipal Office is based on an agreement of participating municipalities following Municipal Act 369/1990 as amended. One supplement to this agreement had been adopted in 2004 (concerning the extension of powers on local road planning and building administration and expropriation processes). The Office is not an independent legal body. It works within the structure of the City Office of Surany as a separate unit of the Department of Environment, Construction, Territorial Planning and Property Administration. It prepares all necessary administrative documents that are then signed by mayors of the municipality concerned. However, this organizational affiliation does not mean that the mayors of municipalities concerned are not held accountable.

Three work places are planned for the Joint Municipal Office. At present, there are 2.5 work places asone specialist works half-time and is paid by the City of Surany (the Chair of the entire Department of the City Office). All the staff fulfil the required criteria of professional competence set by national legislation.

Due to the large number of participating municipalities, the Joint Municipal Office is financed approximately one-third by participating municipalities’ contributions and two-thirds by state contribution to the administration of these powers (on a per capita basis of transferred subsidies): most of the costs (salaries, insurance, transport, equipment, etc.) are covered by these two main resources. The contribution of the participating municipalities is calculated on a per capita basis. Post costs are calculated according to real costs per municipality. The Joint Office operating costs (electricity, heating, phones) are calculated according to their share of total running costs, based on the number of City Office staff. In 2008, the annual costs per capita paid by participating municipalities were SKK12 (approximately EUR0.4). All costs were accurately registered by the City Office Financial Department in a separate bank account. Twice a year, each municipality obtains a detailed financial report. In 2008, the total costs of the Joint Office were approximately SKK1.4 million (EUR47,000); a major part of this consists in personnel costs (salaries and insurance payments). No rent for office space is paid.

The operations of the Joint Office do not limit the competencies of the participating municipalities. Their legal position has not changed. It provides the necessary specialized administrative and professional decision-making support to the mayors of participating municipalities. All decisions are signed by the mayor of the municipality concerned. Under such conditions, there is a crucial accountability link between elected officials (the mayor and Council) and citizens. The Joint Office must follow strict rules set by national legislation concerning their work. Its operations are discussed during frequent meetings with all mayors. The monitoring of financial issues is extremely accurate, regular and transparent – each municipality is provided with a full overview of all financial costs twice a year, including of its own contributions. This is considered important in terms of transparency and mutual trust among all partner municipalities.

Establishment of the IMC practice

The main success factors:

  1. Mayors and city councils are satisfied with implementation and professional competences; they benefit from professional, experienced and reliable performance that they could not easily achieve within their own offices
  2. There was interest and support by the largest city.
  3. The establishment process was simple, with no special experience required; the Agreement on the Joint Municipal Office was concise and sufficiently clear]
  4. It was clear that the competencies are still the responsibility of mayors/local councils and that the Joint Municipal Office only prepares decisions.

The initiative leading to the establishment of the Joint Office was started by the Mayor of Surany, the city later serving as the seat of the Joint Municipal Office. He invited mayors of other municipalities to a meeting to discuss how to deal with the transferred powers. There were three meetings to develop the draft agreement, which was later approved by all local councils and signed by the mayors of all the municipalities belonging to the region. Although there were more powers discussed (e.g. selected powers in school administration), they decided to administer only delegated competencies in building permit administration and territorial planning within the Joint Office. One year later,powers were added, concerning expropriation procedures, planning and building permits for local and service roads (through the Agreement Supplement).

Due to clear and simple legal conditions, no external assistance was needed. Some support was provided from the beginning by Surany Municipality (a large number of staff, more specialized and professional). Certain basic equipment, facilities and rooms were provided by the City Office in Surany at the beginning of operations. Some equipment was transferred from the old state administration office previously responsible for implementing building permits. Later, the necessary equipment and facilities were completely replaced and modernized based on consultations between Joint Office officials and mayors, then approved and financed. It was useful that right from the beginning, one professional who had previously administered the same agenda at the district state administration, agreed to work in the Joint Municipal Office. There were no problems during the establishment process, since territorial affiliation to Surany as the natural centre had been clear, and the agenda of the Joint Office strictly follows national legislation. Due to the large savings for each participating municipality, even financial issues were not a problem. In fact, participating municipalities never administered these powers individually.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

All partner municipalities are fully aware of the reduction of administration costs in such competencies, as explained below. They are also aware of needed skills for a reliable administration that could be possible to have within a larger office.

Citizens had previously considered the current centre as their urban centre, which provided many services for the whole region. Citizens consider this arrangement better than before, because the Agenda Office is now closer to where they live. They also enjoy a much more flexible and personal approach than previously in communications with the larger state administration body. The Joint Office is not far from all the municipalities and is easily accessible by public transport. Citizens were also informed of the financial situation of their respective municipalities and did not insist on implementing these powers.

Mayors as well as citizens respect clear, available financial facts. The Central State provides for a building permit administration subsidy of approximately SKK25 per capita per year. In the case of a model municipality with a population of 1,000, this would be merely SKK25,000. This would not be enough to cover the monthly salary of one professional needed for such an agenda. If their own annual contribution to the Joint Municipal Office is calculated at SKK12 per capita, this only totals SKK12,000. Therefore, for such a meagre sum, the municipalities have a smooth operating administration for these agendas. Due to this high expenditure saving for each municipality (approximately SKK100,000), they do not wish to change the current situation and thus support the Joint Office.

In addition, the part-time administration in the municipality is not efficient. Not only is it too costly, but the prevailing opinion within participating municipalities is that it is better for citizens to have a larger office, with more specialized staff, available every working day and not only one or two days a week, rather than depend on one person (who may even be absent). Further, professionals working in this field need special education and further training. In fact, there is a limited number of such professionals is in fact limited on the labour market.

No special initial costs were required. Equipment and facilities at the beginning were provided by the Municipal Office of Syrany. Some small equipment had been received from the State Administration Office.

Shortcomings

There are no significant shortcomings with respect to this IMC. All major joint decisions are included in the founding Agreement. The Joint Office is working strictly within the framework of the legislation and provides support to individual decisions regarding some municipalities. There are no serious joint collective decisions needed concerning more municipalities that could harm IMC operations. The Joint Office has been working for years, according to simple and clear rules. This is part of the routine of local administration without any special treatment and disputes.

From the point of view of citizens, this is an improvement.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

There are no plans for expanding the fields of the joint office administration. There were some discussions on more competencies under the joint administration at the early stage of preparing the Joint Office. Later experiences proved advantageous in adding other competencies similar to those already administered (expropriation and local roads planning and building).

The expansion of partner municipalities for the Joint Office in the field of building permit timetable is not currently possible. The representatives of the municipalities, as well as Joint Office staff, are awaiting the decision of the Central Government concerning the future of joint offices and the organizational structure of their operations. The Central Government is close to reaching a decision on a fixed network of centres and the participating municipalities concerned. It should respect the already developed joint municipal offices, and establish joint offices for non-participating municipalities that would eventually join (if approved by the Slovak Parliament). It is expected that legislation concerning the future of the joint offices in the field of land use planning, building permits, and related matters will be adopted in 2009.

There are neither considerations nor reasons to change the legal form of cooperation; it is deemed suitable, flexible and efficient.

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

Important IMC success factors are:

  • the active role of self-government and the mayor of the geographical urban centre of region – their interest and support for the joint office;
  • being a geographically connected region with a tradition of cooperation, inter-municipal solidarity and clear affiliation to the main city centre;
  • very clear and transparent financial procedures and accurate cost-sharing – these are important in building trust among partners.
  • quality performance of Joint Office tasks – the mayors are satisfied and are reassured when delegation of competences is carried out within a strict legal environment;
  • a sufficient size of area covered by the Joint Office – this has strongly reduced costs of its operations; in fact, they pay a marginal sum only if such a scale of operation is achieved.

Experiences related to the Joint Office operations can be replicated by other municipalities in Slovakia. It is a good case of joint office operations, which have been carried out since early 2003 without any substantial changes and problems.

There could be more opportunities for motivating municipalities to cooperate, e.g. by more extensive financial transfers to municipalities affiliated to joint offices. The Central Government accepted the operations of joint offices and will use them as a basis for building permit administration in the future.

The activities of the Association of Municipalities are considered adequate. The Association frequently discusses the issues of joint offices during informal meetings of mayors and in other events. The Association of Municipalities has also discussed many issues concerning joint offices operations with the Central Government. The Joint Offices are supported by training and seminars regarding their operations.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

Joint Office officials as well as other representatives involved in managing Joint Office affairs are willing to share experiences in this field.

Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Jan Bucek.