50 shades of black. Journalistic investigation
Chernivka village accession to Chernivtsi was blocked for the sixth time by city council deputies, who are convinced that it will not bring “any benefit” to the oblast centre.
By Dmytro Synyak
Typically, these are the villages that block the initiative of accession to cities of oblast significance, as if they do not need a city mess, and will somehow manage their own land themselves without “foreign” officials. In the Chernivtsi Oblast, the opposite is true: for four consecutive years, the Chernivtsi city council has opposed formation of an amalgamated hromada with its neighbouring village of Chornivka. Decentralisation.gov.ua tried to understand the reasons for such a demarche.
Lessons not learnt by the Chernivtsi City Council deputies
Until mid-2018, Dnipro mayor Borys Filatov led a tough economic war with the Slobozhanska AH, trying to get it to pay for all the services it receives from the city. For example, Dnipro demanded UAH 8 million for heat supply debts. Borys Filatov even stated that he would not stop his attacks in the address of the Slobozhanska hromada and would continue to charge it until accession of the Slobozhanske settlement to the city. In 2017, the Slobozhanska AH was the richest hromada of Ukraine, with a budget of UAH 262 million for 15 thousand inhabitants, mostly due to the PIT from the Dnipro enterprises registered in its territory.
However, the record budget started to decline. One of the companies re-registered its legal address from Slobozhanske to Dnipro. Subsequently, the Dnipro city government adjusted the city bus routes, and left Slobozhanske settlement without transport connexion. Besides, the Dnipro city council decided to tax the lease of land in the Dnipro city by enterprises registered in the Slobozhanska AH. This story ended with the signing of a “peace treaty” under which the settlement was obliged to pay the city for all the services it received. However, these problems might not be the case if Dnipro took timely care of forming an amalgamated hromada with Slobozhanske.
Sometimes AHs also form so-called “bagel hromadas” around cities of oblast significance, surrounding cities in rings and depriving them of future development opportunities.
In Chernivtsi, unfortunately, these lessons were not learned.
“Humiliation and disrespect...”
The village of Chernivka in the Novoselytsia Rayon, that is home to 2,300 people, they decided to amalgamate with the oblast centre in 2016, having held, accordingly, public hearings. The decisions of Chernivtsi residents were subsequently taken into account in the perspective plan by the oblast council deputies. According to this plan, 5 surrounding villages, including Chornivka, should access Chernivtsi as part of the Chernivetska AH.
“We were one of the first in Ukraine to initiate the amalgamation process,” says Chernivtsi village head Heorhii Bota. “However, in 2016, the accession of villages to cities of oblast significance had to entail extraordinary election, and our proposal was expectedly not supported by the deputies.”
For four years, this issue was put to the vote 5 times, and Heorhii Bota each time asked to “make a gift for the village”, but the city council remained indifferent to his beggings.
When the issue became acute, Heorhii Bota launched another, sixth vote. He asked, called for conscience, and his proposal was put to the vote 4 times, but no positive decision was made.
“Do you imagine how nervous it was and how much humiliation we have endured in 4 years to form an AH with Chernivtsi!” outrages Heorhii Bota in a comment to decentralisation.gov.ua. “And do you imagine how much money we lost! According to my calculations, we could have received over UAH 7 million of infrastructure subvention only during these years!”
Chornivka villagers really need one thing from Chernivtsi. It concerns arrangement of a municipal landfill that borders Chornivka land.
Of course, there is plenty more fish in the sea, and in four years the Chornivka village council considered several options for accession. However, none of them came in any comparison with the Chernivtsi variant.
Mayor dismissed and renewed
Unfortunately, there is too much politics in the work of the Chernivtsi city council.
In 2011, 42 cty council deputies voted in favour of early termination of office of Mykola Fedoruk, who was four times elected as the mayor and who headed the city for 17 years.
On 25 May 2014, Oleksii Kaspruk won the extraordinary election with 55.38% of votes.
However, in the session hall, everything turned out the opposite: most deputies focused on Vasyl Prodan, head of the “Ridne Misto” faction.
On 26 July 2018, the Chernivtsi city council took a step already tested on Mykola Fedoruk: Oleksii Kaspruk was impeached.
But he didn't give up. He sued the city council, and the court reinstated him on 23 April this year.
Needless to say, in such circumstances, any decision supported by Mr Kaspruk is not automatically supported by deputies. The same thing happened when Oleksii Kaspruk advocated for the accession of Chornivka and Toporivtsi to Chernivtsi…
“For and against”
“If we do not form an amalgamated hromada with our own decision, the state will make it for us next year,” says Chernivtsi city council deputy Serhii Hrekov, who voted in favour of establishing an AH with Chornivka and Toporivtsi. “So I do not see any point in delaying the adoption of this decision...”
“We must sooner or later take up the issue of the city landfill,” adds Mr Hrekov’s colleague Vasyl Maksymyuk.
“Chernivtsi and Toporivtsi are large villages with many problems that require tens, if not hundreds of millions of hryvnias, to solve,” said Volodymyr Beshley, member of the "Ridne Misto" faction of Chernivtsi city council, who refused to vote. “It is about sewage, roads, public transport and more. Of course, amalgamation with Chernivtsi is profitable both for Chornivka and Toporivtsi, but what is the benefit for Chernivtsi?”
After a failed vote, Oleksii Kaspruk instructed the financiers of the Chernivtsi city council to calculate what expenses and benefits the Chernivtsi budget would have from amalgamation.
Looking for a way-out from a dead end
Not only the residents of Chornivka and Toporivtsi suffer from political confrontation. According to Serhii Hrekov, in August the Chernivtsi city council is still considering the May issues, “since there is often no quorum because of a conflict between the mayor and the secretary.” In addition, “if earlier deputies considered up to 50 issues during the session, only two social issues were considered during the last session.”
According to Mr Hrekov, it is possible to get out of this impasse by starting negotiations or by holding re-elections of the mayor and deputies.
Heorhii Botas says he hopes for the authority of Ivan Muntyan, head of the Chernivtsi Oblast Council, who promised to help in this matter.
Interestingly, Volodymyr Beshley also does not exclude that he will change his decision, “when he analyses all the advantages and disadvantages of accession.” That is why he refused to vote, but did not vote against.
According to Ms Tetiana Tatarchuk, director of the Chernivtsi Local Government Development Centre, the gap between neighbouring villages and the city has been somewhat reduced thanks to the first inter-municipal cooperation agreement. The village council of Toporivtsi has recently agreed with Chernivtsi to establish a joint ASC, and this initiative was supported by the U-LEAD with Europe Programme. Therefore, the two municipalities have already begun to look for common ground.
The full version is available in Ukrainian – please click HERE
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