It's baffling that while the government has looked for ways to hike the salaries of public servants, bring down energy costs and carry out the long-awaited care homes reform, local governments seem to have been forgotten, Hiiumaa Municipality Mayor Hergo Tasuja writes.
Reading ERR's news story "Local governments in Võru County appeal to state for economic aid" in the northwestern corner of Estonia, in Hiiumaa, I am once again prompted to ask, where is the public administration minister?
I agree with credit where credit is due from the southeast. The considerable pay rise of rescue workers and teachers next year is worthy of commendation. I hope the trend will be retained in the coming years to, among other things, help popularize these professions. The importance of internal security and availability of capable teachers is felt especially acutely in the far corners of the country.
However, I must also agree with that side of my Võru County colleagues' address that suggests matching this level of salary advance is very difficult for local governments. While it may be possible to shelve major road investments for a year on the central government level, this largely concerns maintenance and repairs of smaller roads and streets on the local. Skipping a year there has a tangible effect on people's quality of life.
What is more, pot holes ignored one year still have to be fixed the next that is bound to cost more by then (as the problem continues to get worse). In other words, local governments' fiscal choices are far more limited than those in the state budget.
What baffles me is that while the government has looked for ways to hike the salaries of public servants, bring down energy costs and carry out the long-awaited care homes reform, local governments seem to have been forgotten. Is it really a case where local elections are recently over and won't roll around again until 2025, meaning that local bridges are to be crossed once the government comes to them?
Local governments deserve attention, primarily from their main partner and supporter, Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa). Unfortunately, the only thing I can think of regarding Solman is her initiative to change a few street names in Narva.
The minister consoled Võru County local government heads by suggesting local governments' revenue base will grow through increased income tax receipt next year. Yes, that is the way the budget grows from one year to the next. But in a situation where expenses are growing (at least) as briskly as revenue, my knowledge of mathematics suggests no additional resources can be found in this way.
Efforts at explanation by Võru Mayor Anti Allas saw the minister propose a solution to improve local government's fiscal position. To make it possible for cities and rural municipalities to join the [electricity] universal service. This would indeed be of use. Hiiumaa Municipality's principal activities budget is €17 million. Making the universal electricity service available could help save a few hundred thousand euros.
This could be summed up as better late than even later. Provided Solman can find support for the proposal in the cabinet. But I would also like to see proactivity instead of lagging behind. Initiatives to come out of the ministry instead of reacting once local governments make their concerns public.
Solman's comment that whether local governments can be helped in other ways remains to be "observed going forward" hardly inspires confidence. Nor does it convince in terms of Estonia even having a minister in charge of regional policy. The website of the Government Office reads that it is the public administration minister in charge of local government and regional development. Minister of public administration, where are you?
Editor: Marcus Turovski