There exist two variants of amalgamation [of settlements]. The first one suggests a merger between bordering settlements. The practice is particularly widespread in the Komi Republic and the Saratov Region. The second one involves transformation of a municipal district into an urban okrug along with the subsequent abolition of all municipalities within the territory. The process is currently under way in the Moscow Region, the Stavropol territory and in other localities. No clear-cut criteria have been designed so far to determine what entity can or cannot be eligible for a merger. There is, however, a rather vague ‘proximity’ criterion, notes Roman Popov, Deputy Director, Municipal Economic Development Department, IUE. Therefore, a merger between two settlements located within 10 minutes’ walk from each other and those within 2 hours’ walk will be considered legally valid. “This is done to strengthen municipalities,” says Roman Popov.
It is assumed that consolidation will help reduce the costs associated with maintenance of local government bodies. Besides, small-size settlements may experience a shortage of skilled staff – the problem that consolidation can also help rectify. This, however, may have an unwelcome effect for local residents as local governments are ‘moving away’ from them. For instance, a local government has left a nearby street for a neighboring settlement. And those who lived in central locations may well end up on the outskirts of their settlement, which is not to everyone’s liking. So, to get their problems solved one has to make a long trip. The situation becomes even more critical when [as a result of amalgamation] a municipal district becomes an urban okrug, with the related lower-level government bodies having been simply abolished. This may have an adverse effect on accessibility of local governments for local residents.
Moreover, residents often learn about the merger between their settlement and another one only after the event had taken place. “Many people are not concerned with the issue while it is under discussion. But once the decision is made, it is too late,” says Roman Popov. In fact, a decision by local deputies is sufficient to alter the boundaries. Local governments can put the issue on the agenda of public hearings. Even then, however, public opinion may have no significant effect. Local governments have their toolboxes of proven mechanisms at hand, and use them to have the ‘right’ decision made. For instance, they hold public hearings during working hours, or make late announcements... The creation of social infrastructure and consolidation [of settlements] are unrelated issues as the latter ones are addressed at the regional level while schools, child daycare centers, health centers are constructed to suit the number of local residents. Consolidation process, therefore, will not lead to lessening of the number of social facilities.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta, issue date November 19, 2018