Opposition parties in Tallinn, commenting on the city's budget for next year, found that more money should be spent on rail transport and bicycle paths, kindergarten and school places remain problematic, as does the transition to Estonian schooling. The opposition still dislikes Tallinn's considerable media spending.
The Tallinn City Council is set to conduct the third and final reading of the capital's 2023 budget bill that amounts to €1.1 billion.
Heads of opposition parties in Tallinn – Eesti 200, EKRE, Isamaa and Reform – all found allocations that they would have spent on something else.
Tallinn head of the opposition leader Reform Party Kristen Michal said that investments necessary for the city's development are set to fall.
"We hear much about the Old Harbor tram project today, while it was already on the agenda complete with foreign funding in 2015-2016, as was the Ülemiste tram line. The city should develop Haabersti, Mustamäe-Nõmme, Lasnamäe and Pirita tram connections, as well as a line from Põhja-Tallinn to Lasnamäe through Kristiine," Michal said.
Eesti 200 also want public transport to be prioritized, with funding pulled from the capital's free public transport, its deputy whip Joel Jesse said.
"Instead of the 'free' service, we should invest in the competitive ability of public transport, make connections faster and gradually develop a fast and convenient rail transport network that would enrich the city environment and make it more environmentally friendly. Today's 'free' public transport requires more money every year, while Tallinn continues to drown in cars because public transport is slow and the line network no longer matches expectations," he said.
EKRE believes the capital should first concentrate on fixing up Peterburi tee. Next year's budget has funding only for the renovation plan.
Reform, EKRE and Isamaa agree that the opposition's proposals to amend should be financed from Tallinn's media budget.
"Talking about making smart use of funds, Tallinn's 70 communication workers, with an average salary of €2,058 a month, which [Mayor Mihhail] Kõlvart considers indispensable, are not it. Around €3 million earmarked for buying air time and other propaganda for the city's heads is also a surplus. Dialing back paid promoters and propaganda could help fulfill the promise of hiking the city's price advance benefit for pensioners to €200," Michal said.
Tallinn has 93,000 pensioners and hiking the benefit to €200 costs around €2.5 million.
Head of Isamaa Tallinn City Council group Sander Kase said that these funds (currently spent on media – ed.) could be used to improve buildings' energy efficiency and set up various necessity-based services.
Switch to Estonian schooling problematic
Tallinn's rulers, especially those from the Center Party, have long been critical of Estonia's full switch to teaching in Estonian, which they have described as hurried and suffering from a lack of teachers. The opposition is pointing the finger at the city budget, suggesting that funds have not been allocated.
Isamaa have entered a proposal for funds to be allocated.
"Just €53,000 has been earmarked for in-depth Estonian training," Sander Kase said, adding that this in a situation where the Tallinn Russian Lyceum that offers Russian language courses has been allocated €47,000. Isamaa's proposal would see spending on in-depth Estonian training of education personnel rise to €3 million.
"The budget lacks a valid effort to accommodate the switch to Estonian education. The reason for this is, of course, political as both the mayor and the Center Party oppose the initiative," Kristen Michal said.
Joel Jesse said that education needs to be given more money in general, also by employing more teachers to keep class sizes manageable and avoid situations where some students have to attend school at night.
Snow clearing should be city's duty
Isamaa has been proposing freeing citizens of the obligation to clear sidewalks of snow for years, describing it as unfair.
"Saddling homeowners with the obligation to keep sidewalks clear is an unfair and in many cases impossible task. Owners are obligated to clear sidewalks several times a day if necessary, meaning they theoretically cannot even go to work when it's snowing. It is mostly a problem for the elderly and people whose health does not allow them to shovel snow," Kase said.
Eesti 200 agrees. "It should be handled centrally on the municipal level that would ensure better and more even quality and free owners of buildings of the insensible obligation," Jesse said.
Investments volume set to fall
Other opposition proposals to amend included funding for the Padriku Basic School and Pirita Economic School, €10 million for civil defense (EKRE), a commemorative plaque for victims of the March bombings, diverting funding from the Linnahall project to keep sports facilities open in the evening (Isamaa), and faster development of a main network of bicycle paths (Eesti 200).
The 2023 budget is worth €1.14 billion, €66.5 million (6.2 percent) more than the city spent in 2022.
The 2023 budget has €217.6 million for investments for a reduction of 4.7 percent year-over-year. Roads and streets (35.9 percent), education (22.6 percent) and culture and heritage conservation (12.9 percent) are prioritized.
The city budget will be put to its final vote on December 15.
Editor: Marcus Turovski