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MAYORS SAY NEW RESPONSIBILITIES ARE MORE THAN THEY ARE MADE OUT TO BE

Towns strong but poor

MAYORS of towns and villages from all of Slovakia came to Bratislava on April 20 to tell Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda that they did not like the way the government was treating the regional governments.
A crowd about a thousand strong gathered in front of the Slovak Cabinet Office to warn that the municipalities are in a critical state for which they cannot be blamed.
The fiscal decentralisation plan - scheduled for January 2006 - that the Finance Ministry released in early April was the straw that broke the camel's back for the local governments, who already feel they are suffering.

MAYORS of towns and villages from all of Slovakia came to Bratislava on April 20 to tell Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda that they did not like the way the government was treating the regional governments.

A crowd about a thousand strong gathered in front of the Slovak Cabinet Office to warn that the municipalities are in a critical state for which they cannot be blamed.

The fiscal decentralisation plan - scheduled for January 2006 - that the Finance Ministry released in early April was the straw that broke the camel's back for the local governments, who already feel they are suffering.

Michal Sýkora, the head of the Slovak Association of Towns and Villages (ZMOS), said that, under the new plan, municipalities have to carry the entire burden of the responsibilities transferred to them from the central government while the state keeps the money earmarked for them.

Sýkora complained that the executive powers have failed to effectively supervise the process.

"In response to their complaints, municipalities often receive ironic recommendations to turn to the courts with their problems," Sýkora told the news wire SITA.

Tensions culminated at the ZMOS April 21 congress as the municipal leaders booed Dzurinda and his ministers for what they called the failing reform of public administration.

The PM admitted that the reform had its pains but rejected the ZMOS claims that the state would leave the towns and villages with empty pockets.

"We are not interested in harming towns and villages," Dzurinda said.

The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), a member of the ruling coalition, has joined the municipalities in their criticism of the Finance Ministry.

"We demand that the Finance Ministry define an exact and transparent mechanism for financing local governments, at least until the impacts of the tax reform on municipalities and regions are known," Iván Farkas, a member of the SMK board, told SITA.

According to the SMK, the new system of financing local and regional governments from January 2005 may deepen the existing gap between regions.

The Finance Ministry rejected the criticism.

"The goal of the new financing system is to strengthen the independence and responsibility of the regional governments in deciding on the use of public funds," reads the ministry's official stand.

The scheme expects municipalities and the greater territorial units to rely mainly on personal income tax for funds.

As part of the reform, local administrative bodies will receive a number of responsibilities formerly administered centrally by the state, such as elementary and secondary education, social services, public transportation, and the maintenance of local roads.

They will have the right to decide the rates of local real estate and road taxes, which would also help them fund their budgets.

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