Admin reform: local municipalities will be merged one way or another (3)
The Minister of Public Administration Arto Aas has sent the administration reform draft to other ministries for coordination. The draft bill sets a minimum threshold of 5,000 inhabitants for all municipalities in Estonia. Those lacking in resident numbers can choose which neighboring areas to join, or failing that, will be merged with adjoining municipalities by force from 2017 onward.
The first step of the reform is voluntary mergers, where all municipalities can choose suitable partners and those achieving the 5,000-resident quota will be given a financial grant. Merged municipalities with more than 11,000 inhabitants will be allocated an extra 250,000 euros.
Starting 2017, the municipalities that have failed to merge voluntarily, will be united by the government.
All local governments who need to merge will be required by law to conduct a public opinion poll in 2016-2017 to determine people's preferences on the matter.
The administration reform aims to form local municipalities that are capable of providing their residents with better public services, ensure the growing competitiveness of rural regions and fulfill their statutory functions.
The government also hopes that the reform helps municipalities take on a bigger role in organizing public affairs, and increase competence, and availability and quality of services.
The administration reform has been in the works for years. IRL and the Reform Party, when in coalition from 2011-2014, differed on how to decrease the number of local governments, with IRL pushing for reform which would force smaller municipalities to unite into 50 units, instead of the current 215. The Reform Party was then unwilling to force municipalities to merge, but changed its tune when the current Coalition formed.