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Vladeasa Huedin region

From Municipal Cooperation

Vladeasa Huedin region
Service Areas: Socio-Economic Development, Solid Waste Management
Country: Romania
Municipalities: Huedin, Beliş, Călăţele, Ciucea, Izvoru Crişului, Măguri Răcătău, Mărgău, Mănăstireni, Mărişel, Negreni, Poieni, Râşca, Săcuieu, Sâncraiu
Contact persons: Gheorghe Popa, György-Árpád Péter
Legal form: Public law association
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Coordinates: 46° 51' 48" N, 23° 1' 59" E

Description of the problem/need for IMC

The activities of this group of municipalities are based on the need for a joint strategy for stimulating local economic, social, and environmental development. This need is addressed in several ways. The development of infrastructure (roads, water supply and purification facilities, waste management facilities) is seen as a first step in allowing the area to fully exploit its tourism potential. This is the key issue that drove cooperation, since most municipalities in the area lacked basic services such as water supply and purification and waste management. Another issue is related to stimulating economic activity, especially in the field of agriculture, since the area has little or no pollution and a high potential for ecological agriculture.

An important stimulus is the need to attract financial resources and to use the opportunities provided by governmental and EU funding (pre-accession funds and Structural Instruments), since local resources are much too limited to provide the necessary investments.

Description of the IMC practice

Areas of municipal activity:

To date, the areas of cooperation have been:

  • planning, coordination, information and project management;
  • waste management;
  • small-scale projects focused on tourism promotion.

Municipalities involved:

Since 2001, in different forms, there has been cooperation between the following municipalities from the region: the town of Huedin, and 13 communes, Beliş, Călăţele, Ciucea, Izvoru Crişului, Măguri Răcătău, Mărgău, Mănăstireni, Mărişel, Negreni, Poieni, Râşca, Săcuieu, Sâncraiu. This inter-municipal cooperation (IMC) covers a total population of 41,670. These municipalities are situated in the mountain area of Cluj county, north-western Romania, with Huedin serving as a centre for economic and administrative activities, education and healthcare, among other services.

Legal form of cooperation:

The municipalities involved have used different legal forms of cooperation to address issues in the above-mentioned areas of cooperation – NGO, contract and inter-community development association (ICDA). This multitude of legal forms of cooperation was imposed by the context, as cooperation between these municipalities dates back to 2001 and the legal framework for IMC in Romania dates back to 2006. Currently, all three legal forms of cooperation mentioned co-exist.

The 13 communes and the town of Huedin are represented in the NGO Huedin Area Development Association, which was the main instrument for planning, coordination, information and project management services from 2001. From 2001 to 2005, this was the main form of cooperation between the municipalities, and with external assistance from an NGO and some international donors, has successfully developed the first local development strategies, several projects aimed at increasing citizen participation in local decision-making, and some small-scale tourism promotion projects. Some urgent priorities identified during this period were the basis for current actions and projects under implementation. At present, this legal entity is being prepared to act as the framework for local LEADER[1] programme actions, as it is the only legal form in which municipalities can formally associate themselves with enterprises, NGOs and citizens. This is a private legal entity, where decisions are made by a Board composed of all the mayors of the 14 communities. Being a private legal entity, it is authorized to take over some services from the member municipalities, but only those that do not involve managing and making investments in public property (local public utilities networks and the associated land).

Only the 13 communes (municipalities from rural areas) are represented in the ICDA (a quasi-public entity with multiple competences) entitled Inter-Community Development Association of the Vlădeasa-Huedin Microregion, whose main focus is infrastructure development in the area. As such, it is authorized to take over some services from the member municipalities, but it is not allowed to deal with public property, since there are some imperfections of the legal framework. The main advantage of this form of organization, when compared to the NGO, is its eligibility for EU funding through the some of the seven programmes included in the Structural Instruments in Romania 2007-2013. This entity has taken over the planning, coordination, information, fundraising and project management activities from the NGO. In addition to providing these services to member municipalities, it has provided assistance to non-member municipalities interested in establishing ICDAs. This assistance has been either free of charge or offered in exchange of a very small consultancy fee. Through this form of cooperation, the 13 municipalities have recently obtained funding from the European Social Fund (through the Structural Instruments in Romania) for updating the local development strategies for the individual municipalities and the region. Decision-making within this legal entity is the responsibility of a Council composed of the 13 mayors, in which each municipality has a vote. Decisions are taken by majority, but usually there is a consensus. According to the legal provisions on this form of IMC, no municipality can be obligated to accept a project or action with direct impact on its territory.

Some of the communes are currently implementing bi- or trilateral projects focused on water supply facilities or roads. The legal form used for such project-based cooperation is, again, ICDA, the grouping a small number of communes with direct interest in the project. Under the Structural Instruments in Romania, funding for such projects is limited to one project per legal entity for a maximum of EUR6 million. Accordingly, such bi- or trilateral actions allow for the maximization of the external funding. At the same time, these projects take into account the local specificities (some of the communities are remote and it would be very expensive to connect them to large-scale local infrastructure projects). One such project, involving three member communes, has just received funding as part of the Structural Instruments in Romania.

Waste management was one of the top priorities identified at the creation of the first form of cooperation in 2001. A joint project was developed, focusing on improving services in the town of Huedin and introducing them into the rural areas. Due to the specificities of the legal framework – at the time, delegation of services was not allowed – the municipalities opted for a project-based partnership, governed by a partnership agreement. Funding was obtained as part of the Pre-Accession Instruments in Romania (PHARE CES 2004). The Municipality of Huedin acts as implementing agent on behalf of all the partners. The project is currently under implementation and no cost evaluations have been made to date. Its main achievement is its introduction of waste management services where there were none before.

Staff serving the municipalities:

Since the municipalities involved have very limited financial resources, the staff working on their behalf through the NGO or the ICDA is reduced to one full-time employee of the ICDA with expertise in planning, coordination, fundraising and project management, and one employee of the municipality of Negreni working part-time for the ICDA by municipality decision. Not having their own staff, however, is compensated by a very high level of involvement from the mayors from the region, which is not reduced to strategic planning and macro-level decisions, but includes preparing documents or solving logistical problems when necessary.

Cooperation within the framework of the waste management project is sustained by paid project personnel within the Municipality of Huedin, as well as specialized staff within the Huedin Waste Management Company.

Financing:

Currently, the municipalities pay membership fees only to the ICDA of the Vlădeasa-Huedin Microregion. The amount of the fees was established by the Council of Mayors, according to the size of the community. Currently, all operational expenses (including salaries) are paid by the ICDA, but staff work on behalf of both the ICDA and the NGO. This was necessary in order to avoid unnecessary and expensive duplication of accounting expenses.

Some operational expenses are included in the budgets of different projects managed by the organization on its behalf or on behalf of some member municipalities,

A limited amount of funds comes from consultancy fees paid by municipalities interested in obtaining support for setting up an ICDA.

The medium-term objective is that the ICDA will become self-sufficient through consultancies paid by non-member municipalities or local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers in need of assistance in accessing EU funding.

Sustainability:

There is confidence in its medium- and long-term sustainability is considered, since there is the expectation that the amount of external funding obtained will increase (two new projects obtained funding in the past two months only) for the NGO, the ICDA and individual member municipalities. Sustainability, however, depends on the successful growth from significant but immaterial results (development strategies, small-scale projects) to more material results (roads, water supply and purification facilities, etc.).

The sustainability of the cooperation in waste management is, from the local point of view, guaranteed by the nature of the service (economy of scale) and by the fact that it created services where there were none before.

The sustainability of the initiative is also guaranteed by the external support received during start-up (the Transylvania Ecological Club, a Cluj-based NGO responsible for promoting cooperation in the area, implemented several citizen participation and sustainable development-focused projects, which constitute a valuable resource), support provided by the Cluj County Council (facilitation of cooperation with a French counterpart) and training received by staff and mayors in the framework of the LEADER programme.

Accountability to citizens, monitoring and evaluation

Since the first projects implemented in cooperation by these municipalities, with guidance from the Transylvania Ecological Club, focused on citizen participation in local decision-making, all member municipalities continue in their practices aimed at informing the citizens on the activities developed in the IMC framework. There is still, obviously, much to be done in this field, but the municipalities take pride in the fact that all the strategic objectives pursued in cooperation were the result of public consultation on issues of sustainable local development.

Internal monitoring and evaluation are not formalized yet. There is, of course, a desire to add a formal component to the continuous monitoring and evaluation, but at this point, there is insufficient money and human resources.

Establishment of the IMC practice

In 2001, cooperation between these municipalities was initiated by the Transylvania Ecological Club (CET), a Cluj-Napoca-based NGO. Contacts between municipalities were first established within the framework of a sustainable development project focusing on the Huedin Microregion. The main project activities were focused on creating public participation mechanisms and thus identifying key elements for the sustainable development of the area. The project was funded by MATRA, Milieukontakt Oost Europa, World Wide Fund (WWF) and World Learning. In 2002, the project resulted in the creation of the Huedin Area Development Association (ADZH), with the legal status of NGO. That year, as part of this project, a community forum was organized in Huedin, where a draft strategic document of the ADZH was outlined. A list of strategic projects was also drafted on that occasion, and included a joint waste management project and several tourism infrastructure and tourism promotion projects. The Transylvania Ecological Club continued to facilitate cooperation between these municipalities for four years. Support was given in terms of know-how and funding, and all member municipalities acknowledge that this IMC would not exist today if it were not for the initiative and assistance provided by the CET.

The main success factors in the establishment of this particular IMC were:

  • the vision and professionalism of a few people (NGO activists and individual citizens) whose vision of the development process was far beyond the limits of a given municipality;
  • the motivation of the local political leaders (especially mayors) involved, given that this cooperation did not promising immediate material results that would be visible to their constituency.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

Direct benefits for the partner municipalities:

  • a closer relationship with the citizens as a direct result of early projects implemented with the support of the Transylvania Ecological Club;
  • counselling and information on how to obtain funding for local projects;
  • an improved relationship with the County Council, in order to jointly establish a tourism promotion association.

Direct benefits for the citizens:

  • the opportunity to participate in outlining some of the strategic development directions for the area;
  • the establishment of new services – waste management (all member municipalities), and water supply and sewage (some member municipalities, projects still under implementation).

Shortcomings

No significant shortcomings have been identified to date.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

Areas of IMC:Currently, the municipalities are discussing a list of municipal services to be taken over by the ICDA in the medium and long term, which involves the expansion of cooperation to several areas. This list is not yet final. In addition, three areas of cooperation have already been agreed on: developing support services for SMEs and farmers in the area that need help to access EU funding, cooperation in the field of conservation of the cultural heritage (restoration of the Bologa Castle and creation of a regional museum on the location), and a wood debris management project.

Expanding membership: This is not an option at this point. It was previously discussed by the member municipalities, but was dismissed due to a consensus that, given local specifics, a larger membership would make cooperation unmanageable.

Change of legal form: The last change in legal status of the cooperation occurred in 2008. There is no intention to change it again, except in the case where the legal framework has changed.

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

Lesson 1: Start small! If the municipalities involved are small, lack resources and are confronted with serious development challenges, there may be high expectations for IMC results and a tendency to start with grandiose plans/big projects that would solve all the problems at once. This is not possible in practice; a prerequisite for success is starting small, with small-scale projects that help institutionalizing cooperation.

Lesson 2: In the beginning, no matter how successful the IMC is, results will be abstract (strategies, plans, lists of priorities, the exercise of cooperation) and local politicians and citizens alike will have trouble perceiving them.

Lesson 3: The dedication of the people involved is essential.

Replication is possible: other municipalities could replicate this example and become more successful. Associations of municipalities are essential in disseminating information and sharing experiences in this field.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The staff of the ICDA of the Vlădeasa-Huedin Microregion are already providing assistance to municipalities in the neighbouring Sălaj county that are interested in setting up structures for IMC. This assistance is focused mainly on legal aspects, since legislation on IMC in Romania is not always user-friendly.


Acknowledgment

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