Municipal mergers have returned to the political table. And this is especially true of the announced but failed merger between Mechelen and Boortmeerbeek. There are comments on the impulse from the Flemish government to promote voluntary mergers on a budget, says public finance expert Herman Matthijs (VUB, UGent).
This Flemish government’s plan for municipal mergers, which already existed in the former Flemish administration, is unaffordable from a budgetary point of view. The amounts that Flanders promises when municipalities merge will solve their debt problems, but the rest of Flanders will have to pay for it.
At present, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and Leuven alone have more than 100,000 inhabitants. The establishment of additional cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants will place a burden on the Municipal Fund and will mainly affect the smaller municipalities. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that this municipal fund is increased abundantly every year within the Flemish budget.
If you look at the amounts the municipalities receive per inhabitant from the Municipal Fund, you see huge differences between the smaller / medium-sized and the larger municipalities / cities. One might ask, why should these differences be so great? For the small / medium-sized municipalities are in a very bad position in the current distribution.
Ten comments on the progress of municipal mergers.
There is no evidence whatsoever that larger municipalities are better governed than smaller municipalities. Usually it is the larger municipalities / cities that have a huge budget in terms of expenses and finances are in the worst papers. Related to this, the larger cities also usually have an abundance of staff.
Municipal public finances have been under pressure for some time, which is also due to the proliferation of powers and staff. The Flemish government would do better to reintroduce an article in the local decree, the budget department, to reintroduce the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure. As a result, the competent finance / budget advisers and the CFO would regain control of the local budget.
An amalgamation of municipalities / cities across provincial borders will affect the constituencies. There are undoubtedly examples of mergers between municipalities across provincial borders that can be defended from an administrative and economic point of view. But it does affect constituencies. Take the example of Mechelen and Boortmeerbeek: will Mechelen go to Flemish Brabant or Boortmeerbeek to Antwerp? This may affect the distribution of seats to the House of Representatives and the Flemish Parliament per. province.
The fact that municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants are allowed to form districts will certainly be of great importance for mergers. The city of Antwerp has done a great job here with the merger with Borsbeek. Undoubtedly, other cities will follow the example of Antwerp, because the creation of districts can be more than a lure in mergers.
Mergers between municipalities are an important political fact for the inhabitants. It therefore seems appropriate to first have these plans assessed by the voters in the municipalities involved. It would at least provide democratic support for these plans.
No serious attempt has ever been made in Flanders to look at the tasks of the local authorities. In addition, there are also many overlaps between the competencies between the municipalities, the provinces and the Flemish government. As a result, there are many rules and duplicate administrations.
The landscape for local authorities is unclear and budgetary very expensive: provinces, regions, municipal partnerships, hospital regions, inter-municipal associations, church boards, police zones, security zones, etc. It would be more than helpful to rectify this.
The next Flemish government must certainly have as a priority to finally work on a radical administrative simplification and administrative reorganization. But let us first see what debate the merger case will soon lead to in the arena of Flemish democracy, the Flemish Parliament.