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Local residents skeptical about planned merger plans

Date Posted: 2004-01-29

The cash-strapped Japanese central government has urged local municipalities to merge into larger units in order to cut costs. In many cases, though, local residents have other ideas and are unwilling to lose their independence, even if the central government threatens to cut all subsidies to those towns and villages.

The latest municipality to balk on merger ideas is Irabu Town on Miyako Island, where residents voted down the merger idea in a referendum on Sunday. Six municipalities in Miyako and surrounding islands are proposed to merge into one.

The referendum was barely valid as only 50.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The law requires a minimum 50% participation to make an election legal. Some 68% of those who participated voted against the merger plan, and only 29 percent said yes, despite strong campaigning for the consolidation plan by Irabu Town Mayor Ken Hamagawa.

After the votes were counted, the mayor said he has no alternative but to abide with the will of local residents. “Although the town assembly makes the official decision, people have clearly expressed their opinion and we must respect that,” Hamagawa said. The town assembly was scheduled to make the formal decision at an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

The mayor also said that the town’s decision would mean financial difficulties to the community. “If we don’t get subsidies from the government, it will be very hard to compile a budget. That means we most likely will have to cut the town office staff from the current 180 down to 100. We probably need to cut salaries too,” the mayor warned. The next municipality to go to polls concerning the merger plan is Tarama Village. The voting there is scheduled for Feb. 1.

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