A committee of experts put together by the Ministry of Finance has drawn up a number of proposals and recommendations for the government on administrative reform, including a 5,000 population minimum for local authorities.
The main criteria for all local governments should be 5,000 people, with just a handful of exceptions, the commission said, adding that the 5,000-minimum-limit is the smallest figure from which a municipality begins to greatly improve service quality to residence.
“For example, municipalities with 5,000-6,000 people not only have an investment capability many times larger per person, they also have a far larger critical mass and the know-how for larger and long-term investments, including EU funding,” Tallinn University professor Georg Sootla said, adding that larger local governments are better able to attract competent specialists.
The 5,000 figure is the minimal population recommendation, not the optimal size of a local government.
“Administrative reform will stop the demographic situation getting any worse and create the possibility of increase of local government's purchasing power. This will boost local economic growth and job numbers,” said Mikk Lõhmus, Lääne Nigula municipality head.
Exceptions should be made for local governments in less densely populated areas, which have a size of at least 900 square kilometers and a population of at least 3,500 people. Exceptions can also be made if at least four culturally and geographically close local governments merge, of if one or more are islands.
Public Administration Minister Arto Aas said the concept proposed by the commission is ambitious but realistic. He said municipality heads who lose their jobs in the course of mergers will be compensated. For example, all local government heads who have been in power for over 12 months, will receive a whole year's salary.
Aas said he hopes the reform plan will be approved by the Parliament by mid-2016.
The first stage, where local government can merge voluntarily, should last until October 2015. Those mergers will receive double the usual financial incentive to unite. After that, the government will force mergers until the number of local governments in Estonia is around 70, a third of the current figure.
Editor: J.M. Laats