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Bigger governments means larger city cost savings

Date Posted: 2004-09-10

Japanís central government is encouraging municipalities across the country to consider mergers to save money.

The government wants cities, towns and villages to merge into larger entities, and they are requiring the mergers be completed by April next year, a deadline that most merger partners are finding difficult to meet.

The current five municipalities on Miyako and surrounding islands are currently scheduled to merge into one, for example, but Shimoji Town assembly has yet to agree.

The central government is using the stick-and-carrot motivation, threatening to withdraw all subsidies from those municipalities that refuse to merge according to the plans. That would impact particularly hard on large public construction projects that most local construction companies have come to rely on to stay in business.

Itoman City officials, as an example, have long planned to build a new community center that most residents want. The old Itoman Culture Center was torn down five years ago to make space for Itomanís Comprehensive Athletic Park, and the city has come up with a design and made it public to residents. That plan, finalized on Aug. 27, envisions a large hall with a capacity of 800 seats, and a smaller hall for 200, all equipped with the latest PA and stage systems. The facility would also double as a Central Community Hall.

The problem is money. Itoman City planned to ask a •2.5 billion subsidy from the central government, but since it has failed to negotiate a merger agreement with surrounding municipalities, the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance in Tokyo said no. ďAny municipality that wants to build public projects must do so on their own and not expect subsidy money from the central government. If they merge into larger units, they can fund the projects with their own tax money. Thatís the whole idea of making municipalities to be more self-reliant,Ē a Finance Ministry spokesman in Tokyo said.

Without subsidy money from national coffers, Itomanís plans seem likely to remain a pipe dream, and Itoman will remain the only municipality in Okinawa without its own Community Hall.

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