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Six towns become two in a New Year’s merger

Date Posted: 2006-01-05

A half-dozen southern Okinawa towns and villages argued and fought over the idea of merging into a single community, even knowing their financial survival depended on it.

As the clock ticked down on 2005, the six—Sashiki Town, Chinen Village, Tamagusuku Village, Osato Village, Gushikami Village and Kochinda Town—realized they had to make some compromises. They agreed to disagree, saying they could not form a new city because of philosophic differences.

They chose instead to realign themselves into a new city and a new town.

Nanjou City is the new creation merging Sashiki Town, Chinen Village, Tamagusuku Village and Osato Village. Nanjou City now has a population of 41,000. Kochinda Town decided it could link forces with Gushikami Village; it’s new name is Yaese Town.

First reports from the new towns are that everyone is happy. Now the town and village office staffs are putting their heads together to get paperwork in order. New Year’s holiday days off were canceled as the staffs worked almost round-the-clock to create the merger paperwork.

Nanjou City currently has 426 employees, but city leaders say that number will drop as they figure how to combine operations and services. Gentoku Tsuha is the new mayor, signing documents approving 138 rules of government.

Nanjou City will have its mayoral election February 12th. Yaese Town’s new mayor, Masatsione Moromizato, signed similar documents to operate his new town with its 238-member staff.

The mergers were triggered by the Trinity Reform Plan initiated by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi more than a year ago. It changed many government programs and rules, making prefectures and local communities more responsible for their financial futures. Subsidy money has been slashed from Tokyo, forcing the local cities, towns and villages to cut services and employees. It has left many communities with no other choice than to merge.

Nanjou City was open at midnight January 1st, ready to accommodate registering new births.

Instead, a wedding came first. Uchima Yoshiro and Yoshimi were first to register their marriage, doing so even as city workes were hanging the new Nanjou City name banner.

Yaese Town launched fireworks from nearby Yaese Mountain to commemorate the new year, and its new status. The next steps, they say, are figuring out how to reduce the new town’s office staff, cutting the number of Assembly members, and starting a process of outsourcing tasks previously done by the government.

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