Now that the 2017 local elections have taken place and the Supreme Court of Estonia has ruled not to satisfy the complaints of municipalities contesting their forced mergers, Estonia's nationwide administrative reform can be considered complete, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said on Thursday.
"After approximately 20 years of planning, discussions and debates, it's done," Ministry of Finance spokespeople quoted Aab as saying.
"Where prior to the mergers we had 169 municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents, now there are only 15," he noted. "In addition, the average number of residents per municipality has grown threefold. These figures alone demonstrate that our municipalities are now more capable and able to perform all of the duties that we assigned to them with extra money, including those of county governments."
Following voluntary mergers, forced mergers and litigation, the number of municipalities in Estonia has decreased from 213 to just 79, 15 of which are towns or cities. Prior to the reform, Estonia's 213 municipalities included 30 towns and cities.
Altogether 185 municipalities merged with another municipality or municipalities in the course of the reform. The mergers took effect upon the certification of the results of the Oct. 15 local government council elections.
Average municipal population increases by over 10,000
Prior to the reform, the average number of residents per municipality was 6,349 and the median number of residents 1,887. Following the reform, these numbers increased to 17,118 and 7,865, respectively.
The average area of a municipality prior to the reform was 204 square kilometers and the median area 180 square kilometers, which increased with the reform to 550 and 512 square kilometers, respectively.
The Estonian government adopted the final decisions concerning the administrative reform by July. Of these decisions, 12 proposals for a merger were executed as proposed; in five cases the plan was dropped and in another five cases it was dropped partially. 17 municipalities that were forced to merge with other municipalities appealed to the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the orders, but the country's top court rejected their appeals.
A total of €65 million is to be paid out in merger subsidies to municipalities which opted to merge voluntarily. Of this amount, €28 million is to be paid out next year, with the balance either paid out already or subject to payment in 2019. The subsidy is meant to be used for investment purposes and the payment of allowances to municipal leaders and layoff benefits for officials. The money will also be used to complete various technical changes, including the replacement of road signs.
Editor: Aili Vahtla