A plan is to be completed in Tallinn this month regarding what institutions are to be merged and what to be closed in order to save money, Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday. This plan for savings is not directly related to the emergency situation and coronavirus crisis, however; work on it began last year already.
According to Kõlvart, it is not yet clear what effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on the city budget, as they currently only have a clear overview of city receipts for the first three moths of the year. As a result, it not yet certain when a supplementary budget will reach city council either.
"We have a positive balance for these three months," he said. "Our income grew 6 percent above what was projected. But we understand that this cannot be taken as a basis when dealing with a supplementary budget. Unfortunately, we won't get a real picture until fall. We can see the dynamics at the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and every week some 1,000 people lose their jobs, and that affects Tallinn's income. This picture will be clearer by September."
What needs to be decided now, the mayor continued, is whether a supplementary budget will be passed by Tallinn City Council in June and adjusted in September or whether it will be delayed until September altogether.
"One direction that was planned prior to the crisis already was a reduction in the number of institutions and structural units in Tallinn, which would allow us to optimize management costs," he said. "We will be finishing a plan in May for which institutions we will be merging and which we will be closing."
Asked whether the city also plans on recalling its representative in Brussels, Allan Alaküla, as part of its savings plan, Kõlvart replied that it wouldn't be polite to say so on air, but implied that this is the plan.
"That is indeed correct, that a time of crisis is a good opportunity to look at things from a different perspective," he said. "Tallinn will certainly remain in contact with Brussels, but how exactly is yet undecided."
Regarding crisis-time austerity measures, Kõlvart said that the city does not want to touch the wages of employees on the city payroll, such as bus drivers and teachers.
"15,000 people work in the city system, and the majority of them are not officials," he noted. "The right thing would be to employ the approach that wages would be the last opportunity to make cuts. First and foremost I would consider optimizing the system. Where layoffs are necessary, there's nothing to be done, in terms of officials as well. But if we're talking about workers, then cutting wages would be a final resort."
Mayor criticizes cooperation with state
Regarding the strategy for exiting the emergency situation, Kõlvart said that the capital city would take more conservative measures than the state, as the situation in Tallinn and the city's density demand it.
"People feel like the emergency situation has already ended, and nobody understands why anything should be restricted," he said. "But we can see from experiences elsewhere in the world that the risk of a second wave [of infection] is very high. God forbid, no one wants that, but this crisis should teach us that it is better to be prepared. If we exit, let's do so in such a way that we have no need to go back."
Kõlvart said that he had been interested in being a member of the government's crisis committee as mayor of Estonia's capital city, but it was decided otherwise.
"Such a proposal was made, to have a member on the government's crisis committee, but there was a crisis and things were tense and no systematic cooperation occurred [with the state]," he said.
The mayor said he communicates with Jüri Ratas, the prime minister and person in charge of the emergency situation, but added that there is no systematic coordination taking place between the state and the city.
"Should there be?" he asked. "I believe that there should be a bit more than there currently is, because as I said, Tallinn's decisions affect the entire situation in Estonia. In terms of technical plans, schedules and measures should be better coordinated."
The mayor added that he was informed of the government's planned dates for relaxing and lifting various emergency situation restrictions on Tuesday, alongside everyone else.
Editor: Aili Vahtla