Mayors seeking 4 billion euros for 2005

Four major concerns will dominate the annual conference of mayors in Iraklion, Crete, this Thursday. The hot issues are 4 billion euros; asylum for elected municipal officials who have been sentenced for misdemeanors; repudiation of rumors about government plans to change the system of electing for mayors and municipal councils; and renunciation by the Interior Ministry of any attempt to re-examine and substantially alter the Capodistrias program that amalgamated local government organizations (OTA). About 5,000 elected local government officials, observers and conferees will attend the congress of the Central Union of Greek Municipalities (KEDKE). This, their first Panhellenic meeting since the change of government, will attempt to put election campaign promises and post-election commitments on solid ground. Irrespective of party affiliation, the majority of those attending will be in the mood to make demands of the new government, which has promised, for example, to compensate for monies withheld by the previous government. It is not by chance that just a few weeks before the meeting some tough proposals were under discussion at KEDKE. One that was adopted was for municipalities to abstain from procedures for making contract workers permanent. This would mean not approving permanent work status for temporary workers in municipalities and services unless funding is assured and new legislation is passed which covers the economic cost of municipalities’ new responsibilities. The second proposal which is expected to be discussed at the congress is that KEDKE representatives withdraw from the discussion of the Cities and Municipalities Code – which is virtually a manifesto on the operation of Local Government Organizations (OTA) – unless the mayors’ proposals for amendments to the legislation covering suspension and removal from office are adopted. In addition, other serious issues will be discussed and the proposals voted on will be sent to the Interior Ministry. Interest in the congress is heightened because this first meeting since the general elections will be a test of relations between local government officials and the new government. Although the political parties are evenly matched at the congress, recent years have seen the emergence of a local government discourse that goes beyond party positions on crucial issues, which means unanimous decisions cannot be ruled out. The four crucial issues, in more detail, are as follows. 1. The classic issue of funding is attracting particular interest this year, for two main reasons. The first arises from the government’s commitment to pay municipalities those funds which had been earmarked for OTA but not paid by the PASOK government. According to an audit conducted a few weeks ago by the Economy Ministry, that sum amounted to 2.1 billion euros over the past four years. The second reason concerns the new responsibilities that municipalities have been called on undertake – municipal police forces, for example – or responsibilities funded by EU programs that have ended even though the responsibilities remain – such as Citizens’ Service Centers (KEP), school guards and the Home Help program – and for which no funding arrangements have been made. Taking into consideration the government’s commitment to pay the money that PASOK held back, and full implementation of Law 1828 concerning municipal finances and funding of new responsibilities, KEDKE is asking for 4 billion euros from the 2005 budget, based on their statistics of the cost of exercising their new duties in 2004, allocated as follows: * For preschools, nurseries and welfare foundations: 232 million euros; * For national athletic centers: 232 million euros; * For municipal police: 40 million euros; * For KEP: 45.7 million euros; * For school building guards: 60 million euros; * For school crossing guards: 10 million euros; * Foe the Home Help program: 2 million euros; * For the main administration’s participation in the Thiseas program: 134 million euros; * For maintainance of school buildings and civic protection: 120 million euros. The total cost of the new responsibilities is 683.7 euros. To that are added regular funding from the state budget (2.3 billion euros on the basis of 2004 data), part of the product of the withheld money (600 million euros), and the product of 20 percent of the income tax on private and corporate operators in past financial years (406 million euros). 2. One issue that is expected to spark heated discussion at the congress is that of suspension from office, a threat which many mayors are facing. Officials want the legislation amended so that elected local government officials cannot be suspended by courts of first instance for certain serious misdemeanors, as stipulated in a law which the Parliament passed a few days ago. KEDKE proposes that a mayor may be removed from office only in the case of an irrevocable court decision for serious misdemeanors and felonies. This issue, combined with the possible establishment of new oversight mechanisms, may be the source of discord. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos intends to re-examine the whole subject during discussions on drafting the new code. 3. The next big issue for the congress is that of elections for mayors and municipal councils. The New Democracy government’s line is for mayors to be elected in the first round of voting if they get 42 percent of the vote. This proposal appears to have triggered strenuous opposition, not only from other political parties, but also from mayors of large municipalities that vote ND, for reasons ranging from well-founded concern that it will lead to greater party polarization in local government to the fact that it effectively excludes small parties from producing mayors. 4. Of equal importance is the matter of the Capodistrias program, on the subject of which local government officials have expressed concern arising from ND’s election platform. They fear that if this issue is raised it will cause more problems than it solves, as it will likely lead to more OTAs at a time when there is a need for fewer and larger OTAs so that they can offer elementary services to residents of their municipalities.