Tartu's city government has approved a €212.8-million budget for 2022. Education features prominently, while Estonia's second city is also seeing investment in infrastructure and in preparations for its stint as European culture capital in 2024.
The budget is slightly down on 2021's figure of €215 million.
Total investments come to €33.6 million, with education, culture and the living environment being the most significant areas.
Council chair Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said: "Of strategic processes, the transition of kindergartens and schools that are still Russian-medium to Estonian as the language of learning will start with the support of the budget, and support for the green transition and for innovative enterprises in creating jobs will continue," adding that kindergarten fees will not be raised, while education facilities as a whole will receive investment, as will city infrastructure.
Tartu's operating income is budgeted at €181.3 million for 2022, a rise of 6.6 percent on this yea, with personal income tax the largest single component at €105 million.
The city's operating expenses come to €167.8 million in the budget – over half of this, €94.6 million, consists of educational expenses.
Tartu's investment income is budgeted at €8.5 million; expenses €34.2 million, BNS reports.
The city is to borrow €5.3 million to finance new investments, while the city's net debt will remain at 54 percent at the end of next year, BNS reports.
A €750,000-reserve has been set aside for combating the spread of Covid.
Education investment in the university town is budgeted at €15.2 million, with culture only slightly lower at €1.5 million.
Tartu is European Capital of Culture in 2024; €1.5 million has been earmarked for this, including for marketing here and internationally.
€11.3 million will go on street and road improvement and work on cycle lanes and pedestrian thoroughfares.
The size of the budget of Tartu for 2021 stood at €215 million when approved, while a supplementary budget of €13 million approved in July, can be added to this.
The capital's budget passed one day earlier, on Monday, and is valued at just over a billion, while the €13.633 billion (expenditures) / €13.132 billion (revenue) state budget passed earlier this month.
Opposition parties: Investment not enough
Opposition parties have criticized the level and nature of investments contained in the budget.
Silver Kuusik, chair of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) at Tartu city council chambers, says labor costs estimated at €34 million for 2022 might turn out to cost double, meaning the city government could take out a loan of €32 million.
Kuusik said: "The inflation rate is seven to eight percent and the interest rate is 0.7 percent, meaning it is clear that it is a good time to take a loan."
Kuusik's party wants to build a new school building in the Annelinn district, at a cost of €20 million, adding that demographic flight of around 10,000 taxpayers out of Tartu to surrounding municipalities, over the past decade, is evidence of the mismanagement of the city.
Tartu deputy mayor Priit Humal (Isamaa) rejected the idea of a loan, saying it would not be viable to take out, nor would it solve the issues
"It's not enough to put this one figure in the budget and then the schools will be put right. There are many other aspects that need to be taken into account," he said.
Meanwhile Eesti 200, also in opposition in Tartu, said that entries in the budget do not tally with the claimed main objectives.
Pärtel Piirimäe, who sits on Tartu city government's economic affairs committee, said: "The very first point being emphasized is that we want to develop pedestrian and light traffic roads, whereas in fact, there are no funds in the budget next year to build one kilometer of cycle paths in the city center."
Humal said that more indeed needs to be invested: "If we compare in the long run how the budget has grown with inflation, the budget has followed a single trend. The volume of investments has not caught up with this," adding that state subsidies to the city of Tartu have fallen so much that it is difficult to now boost the volume of investments.
This article was updated to include opposition councilors comments on the Tartu budget.
Editor: Andrew Whyte