Three in four municipalities have merger agreements in place
Local councils had until Dec. 31, 2016 to negotiate mergers with their neighbors to meet the Administrative Reform Act’s requirement of at least 5,000 residents per municipality. As of early January, 160 of 213 have such agreements in place.
The first stage of the implementation of the Administrative Reform Act ended with the last year. Dec. 31 was the deadline for municipalities to voluntarily reach merger agreements with their neighbors to meet the goal of at least 5,000 residents in each administrative unit.
Though the act was contested by several cities and municipalities, the Supreme Court found it constitutional, and the government has announced it will proceed putting it into practice. According to data by the Ministry of Finance, 160 out 213 local councils have merger agreements lined up.
The reform will now continue with the next stage. The government until Feb. 15 will make proposals to the remaining municipalities to merge with neighbors in order to meet the minimum population requirement.
After the second stage, they expected the number of municipalities to shrink to 75, press spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, Karel Hanni, told ERR on Tuesday.
Among those local councils affected by the reform, Pärnu will become the largest city, with a population of more than 50,000 and a total territory of 594 square kilometers. The largest municipality will be Saaremaa, where the whole island is to merge into a single administrative unit with more than 32,000 residents and a territory of 2,580 square kilometers.
According to the ministry, 35 areas and 113 municipalities have confirmed voluntary mergers, while 12 areas and 47 municipalities have merger agreements based on decisions of the government.
At current, 26 local councils neither meet the minimum population requirement nor have they got merger agreements ready. While they will receive merger proposals by the government no later than Feb. 15, they have until May 15 to argue their case, after which their fate will be decided by the government.
Their options include applying to be treated as an exception. The Administrative Reform Act specifies that such exceptions can be made. So far the islands of Muhu, Vormsi, Kihnu, and Ruhnu have applied.