On 16 February, the discussion was held in Krasnokutsk regarding the necessity of amalgamation. The event was carried out with the support of the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine and with the assistance of Krasnokutska Rayon State Administration and the Centre for Local Self-Government Development in Kharkiv Oblast.

" /> The Chairman of Community or the Chairman of Village Council. Arguments in Favour and Against Amalgamation

The Chairman of Community or the Chairman of Village Council. Arguments in Favour and Against Amalgamation

Elections will be held in the five newly established communities in the Kharkiv region already in April - the residents will elect their heads. Notwithstanding that, in many Rayons, there is not a single amalgamated territorial community established so far. The "Slobidsky Krai" newspaper inquired in Krasnokutskyi Rayon why people were not in hurry to amalgamate. 

Roads Constitute the Problem 

On 16 February, the discussion was held in Krasnokutsk regarding the necessity of amalgamation. The event was carried out with the support of the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine and with the assistance of Krasnokutska Rayon State Administration and the Centre for Local Self-Government Development in Kharkiv Oblast. 

As it was informed by the sponsors, it was not incidentally that the Rayon was selected for discussion purposes, because it is one of the sixteen Rayons in the Oblast where there is not a single amalgamated territorial community established. 


More that one hundred persons were invited to take part in the discussion: chairmen of village and town councils and residents of the Rayon, chairmen of the amalgamated territorial communities from other Oblasts and experts who discussed acute and pressing issues, as well as shared their own experience. Lida Petrivna, a resident of the village of Riabokoneve in Krasnokutskyi Rayon, was one of the participants. "I've come here, the woman says, to listen and come to a conclusion by myself. 

- There are a lot of problems in the village. For instance, there is not even a pharmacy kiosk, and the pensioners have to go as far as to the Rayon centre to buy medicinal products, which centre is 25 kilometres away from our settlement", she says. 

The distance is not the only thing that local residents are concerned of, but also the fact that the carrier, as of the beginning of the new year, refused to make trips in their direction of travel. 

- Before the new year, the bus ran at least once a week through Riabokoneve - Slobidka to Krasnokutsk, and now it runs no more", Lida Petrivna added. 

Larysa Nikonova, the Chairwoman of Kachalivska village council in Krasnokutskyi Rayon, is also concerned with the condition of roads. She is not just an audience member in the discussion but she stands with the opponents of amalgamation. The chairwoman faces bad roads very often because she, as many of her other colleagues, independently arranges for the supply of bread and medicines to remote villages. 

- People in those villages see new bread once a week and only after it is brought there by the chairman of the village council, Larysa Nikonova added. 

According to her, her village council would not be against amalgamation, for instance, with neighbouring Parkhomivka if at least one road is in proper condition. 

Oleksandra Sheremetieva, the chairwoman of the already operating Omelnytska amalgamated territorial community in the Poltava region who, by the way, was also against amalgamation not long ago, is well aware of the problem of roads and remote villages. There, they applied their own approach in dealing with those issues. Thus, after the amalgamation, the community extended its competence over the social sphere and established a territorial centre of the social security department. - Today, we have social workers assigned to villages who provide services to the residents in need of social protection services. 


Also, we reached an agreement with agricultural companies farming in our territories that they would assist in helping people: they bring firewood to those villages where there is no gas supply and food products to those ones where there are no retail outlets, the Chairwoman of Omelnytska amalgamated territorial community said. - And, after the amalgamation, we repair roads in the community by ourselves and do not await for anybody to have done it. 

The example can be easily found, says Diana Barynova, the Director of the Centre for Local Self-Government Development in Kharkiv Oblast. Last year, the amalgamated communities in the Oblast already received funds for the development of infrastructure. As a result, Rohanska amalgamated territorial community in Kharkiv Rayon began to resolve its the most painful problem by channelling all projects in the amount of UAH 4.95 million just to the capital repair of roadbed. 

- It is known that, within the framework of amalgamation, communities receive five-year governmental support that is channelled to the renewal and improvement of their own infrastructure, Diana Barynova said. - Also, the amalgamated territorial communities have priority in the call for proposals that are financed by the State Fund for Regional Development. Village and town councils refusing to amalgamate lose that opportunity which means a lot of funds and great opportunities. 

It is a reminder that, in the context of such support, Merfianska ATC received UAH 1.69 million; Rohanska, UAH 4.98 million; Chkalovska, UAH 5.16 million; Starosaltivska, UAH 5.81 million in the last year.

Yurii Hanushchak, an expert from the "Institute for Development of Territories" non-governmental organisation also says that non-amalgamated communities lose precious time. 

- The capability of an amalgamated territorial community lies in the accumulation of personnel, concentration of funds and power. Now, the competition for investors has started among the amalgamated territorial communities. More than 700 communities have been established. Their territory is big enough for a investor to be able to make choice, he added. 

The Fate of Schools is to be Decided by the Community 

Chairwoman of Koziivska village council in Krasnokutskyi Rayon Iryna Karabut also sided with the opponents of ATCs during the discussion and noted that the most pressing issue that the residents of her community were concerned of was the subsequent fate of the infrastructure after an ATC had been established. As of today, there are more than 3,000 residents in the territory of the village council. There are two schools (degrees I-III school where 213 schoolchildren study, and degrees I-II school where 65 schoolchildren study) operating there, as well as a kindergarten where 85 children are brought up. Also, there is a medical and obstetrical station and ambulance station in its territory. 


- I believe that when communities amalgamate, only the village, town or city council which becomes the centre benefits. Schools, hospitals and kindergarten operate there. In accordance with the Long-Term Plan, we have to be included in Krasonkutska ATC (within the boundaries of the Rayon), then there arises the question: what will happen to our social sphere, Iryna Karabut said. 

Instead, her opponent - Chairman of Kochubeivska amalgamated territorial community in Kherson Oblast Ivan Dudar - noted that fear was the major challenge of establishing a community, which fear the community needed to overcome and assume responsibility because everything that would be built in the community depended on local self-government. 

- The community would deal with the infrastructure and you, like the owner in his house, would set priorities for yourself. After amalgamation, there arise additional possibilities of using governmental funds for the infrastructure. Many chairmen are concerned of the fact that they would have to close a school or ambulance station and, of course, nobody wants to do it, but everything will depend on you, Ivan Dudar said. 

According to him, at the time of amalgamation, there were four schools in Kochubeivska ATC and the matter of optimization resolved by itself: the operation of one of the schools was suspended when, on 1 September, five children attended classes. 

- A part of schoolchildren transferred to another school because we arranged for transportation. Without propaganda campaigns and persuasions, parents just decided to transfer children to a school with higher educational capacity where the quality of education was better, the chairman added. 

Also, similar hesitations at the time of amalgamation were in the above mentioned Omelnytska community, its chairwoman Oleksandra Sheremetieva remembers. 

- In our community, 20 settlements have amalgamated; and we signed a memorandum with villages still prior to the amalgamation where it was expressly determined that all money would be divided by the number of residents. Unfortunately, our headman circuits are unable to spend those funds, but it is another matter. Already this year, we have spent more than half a million Hryvnias. Do the non-amalgamated communities have such funds at their disposal? the chairman of Omelnytska ATC asks. 

Personnel Gap or Reduction of Staff 

The opponents of amalgamation are concerned not only with the condition of roads and further fate of the rural infrastructure. Thus, Chairman of Parkhomivska village council Yevhenii Silin is worried by the reduction of staff in councils which are to become headman circuits in the future, because it is hard to find a job in rural areas. 

However, according to his opponent - Chairman of Veselivska community in Zaporizhia Oblast Petro Kiyashko - it is opposite way, communities even face personnel gap. There is a lack of qualified employees who could be able to understand the things because the powers and resources required for exercising thereof have increase by many times. 

- Personal interests of several employees of a village council may not be pursued at the expense of interests of the entire community. I expected to take a part of experts from the Rayon State Administration, however they refused because they would need to do a lot of work in the community. That is why we did not reduce anybody, and only those who did not want to work quitted office. 

Also, according to him, they began to increase the number of jobs in the ATC: established municipal enterprises, began to organize milk cooperatives and hothouse business. 

- By the way, regarding the latter, we set up a green-house in the territory of school. Children grow vegetables and edible greens there. And last academic year, the school canteen had its own cucumbers. Schoolchildren liked the idea and asked for one more green-house, now to be able to sell seedlings, Petro Kiyashko shared the experience. 


Initiatives Abound 

The discussion between the chairmen continued for many hours but, due to deliberation, it became clear that opponents of amalgamation in the Krasnokutsk region were not plenty. 

Anonymous polling showed that 68.57% of all present were in favour of amalgamation, and 31.43%, against it. Similar situation is seen in other sixteen Rayons of Kharkiv Oblast where not a single amalgamated territorial community has been established so far, Diana Barynova informs. This fact does not mean anyway that there are no supporters of amalgamation in those Rayons. 

- The major problem faced in the course of amalgamation is the resistance of chairmen of village and town councils who have to make a decision and do not want to lose their influence, their official seal, and cushy job and are concerned of the budget allocations, the Director of the Centre added. 

And today, initiatives scale up. If, at the beginning of the reform in 2014, the initiatives originated in the centre of potential communities and other neighbouring councils rejected them, now it is more often the case that ordinary people, members of councils, and farmers who are ready to amalgamation call the Centre for Local Self-Government Development. 

Moreover, small villages have started to stir Rayon centres. 

- For instance, in the Kupiansk region, the Rayon centre initiated the amalgamation twice but no agreement was reached. Later, everything calmed down, now there are initiatives in Petropavlivka whose residents do not want to accede to Kupianska ATC. Though public consultations were intricate there, they stimulated the Rayon centre where discussions regarding the amalgamation are also being held, Diana Barynova added. 

There are also grassroots initiatives in Balakliivskyi Rayon. Out of five communities to be established in that Rayon in accordance with the Long-Term Plan, Andriivska village council is already discussing its possibilities. 

- In Bohodukhivskyi Rayon, there are several initiatives prepared by small councils, that is why we recommend to them to have amalgamated. In Borivskyi, Dvorichanskyi, Kehychivskyi, Pervomaiskyi, and Pechenizkyi Rayons, there were also initiatives but they failed to reach agreement there, the Director of the regional Centre for Local Self-Government Development said. 

In Valky, they also proposed twice to have amalgamated. But now, there are discussions there because, according to the Long-Term Plan, there should be two communities established - Valkivska and Koviazka. Instead, the Rayon working group proposes to establish one ATC. The establishment of one community within the boundaries of Rayon is considered in Lozivsky Rayon as well. 

In Zmiivskyi Rayon, there are initiatives submitted by Slobozhanska town council. The process has also intensified in Blyzniukivskyi Rayon where Hennadii Korol, the Chairman of the Town Council of Blyzniuky, is a permanent participant of awareness-raising tours and consultations at the regional Centre for Local Self-Government Development. As in Zmiivsky Rayon, they take an interest in the establishment of amalgamated territorial communities in Sakhnovshchynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi Rayons where no amalgamation was ever initiated. Also, no initiatives have ever been submitted by Barvinkivskyi Rayon. 


Altogether, there must be 58 

According to the information provided by the Ministry of Regional Development of Ukraine, Kharkiv Oblast ranks first in Ukraine in terms of capability. In terms of quality of the Long-Term Plan for the Formation of Territories that includes the analysis of territory coverage by potential ATCs and lack of gaps, it ranks second. 

By the number of ATCs, fourteenth; by coverage of the Oblast territory, twelfth (because there 16 Rayon where not a single community is established). 

It is a reminder that in accordance with the updated Long-Term Plan, the most recent amendments to which were approved in February, there must be 58 ATCs established in the territory of the Oblast. 

Five Communities will go the Polls 

The amalgamation-related initiatives were announced in Velykoburlutskyi Rayon at the beginning of the reform of local self-government. The town council there initiated the amalgamation process but neighbouring communities rejected it. However, this year the council received a proposal to establish an ATC from Hnylytska First village council. 

It was planned that the ATC in that Rayon will comprise six village councils but only two of them were in favour of amalgamation. However, out of 13,000 planned residents only 9,000 live in the newly established community. It is more than 50% and it means that no amendments are required to be made to the Long-Term Plan and the remaining councils may accede the ATC that has been already established, Diana Barynova said. 

Thus, in Velykoburlutska town ATC and additional four communities established in the Oblast, the first elections will be held already on 29 April. Altogether, in Ukraine, 40 ATCs (comprising 133 local councils) will go to the polls to determine their heads. The election process starts already on 10 March. In the Kharkiv region, in addition to the said Velykoburlutska town ATC, residents of Tsyrkunivska village ATC and Pisochnytska town ATC (Kharkivskyi Rayon) will elect their heads. The Central Election Commission called additional elections of members of councils in the communities acceding to the established communities on 29 April. In our Oblast, Hrakivska village council (Chuhuivskyi Rayon) plans to accede to the established Chkalovska ATC. 

- The total number of ATCs in the Oblast has increased up to 16, that is 27.6% of the target, Diana Barynova added. 

All communities, the expert says, may be recognized to be capable, which fact guarantees them the transfer to direct relations with the State Budget of Ukraine. Thus, Starovirivska ATC has amalgamated of three village councils - Starovirivska, Karavanska, and Melykhivska. Here, out of four, three village councils have amalgamated around the centre stipulated in the Long-Term Plan. The population in the community totals almost 6,000 persons and exceeds 50% of the target. The same situation is in Pisochynska ATC comprised of Pisochynska and Berezivska town councils. Out of three, two village councils have amalgamated around the centre stipulated in the Long-Term Plan, the population of the established community is more than 21,000. 

But Tsyrkunivska ATC amalgamates not in accordance with the Long-Term Plan, it has spinned off from a potential Lypetska ATC. Tsyrkunivska ATC amalgamated Tsyrkunivska and Rusko-Tyshkivska village councils, and this amalgamation requires amendments to the Long-Term Plan, however it may be recognized to be capable since its population totals 9,000 residents. 


World Support 

The reform of local self-government and decentralisation have to change the system of government in the country and make Ukraine closer to the European standards of living and the principles of social organization, as well as the economic development and encouragement of investments. 

Therefore, though the decentralisation is not expressly provided for in the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, however, the efficient implementation of that reform will allow Ukraine enhancing the compliance with the requirements contained in the document, specifically in Section V "Economic and Sectoral Cooperation". Because of it, many Western countries and international organizations, the European Union in no small part, are actively supporting the Ukrainian decentralisation through various special financial assistance programmes. 

Source: "Slobidskyi Krai" newspaper