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Small village rejects any merger concept

Date Posted: 2006-03-24

Tiny Tonaki Village is a two-hour ferry ride from Okinawa’s capital city of Naha.

The small village is now being pressured to enter merger negotiations with other towns and villages in an effort to reduce government operating costs. As Okinawa Prefecture experiences increased budget pressures as a result of the Trinity Reform Plan, which it began implementing a year ago, a number of cities, towns and villages have merged into larger, presumably more effective governments.

Tonaki Village and its 479 residents don’t want any part of it. Despite being broke, the village rejects the notion of entering into a union with other municipalities, fearful it would lose its identity. One proposal has been for Tonaki to merge into Naha City.

The Prefecture has offered to put up money for a merger effort, but Tonaki Village says ‘thanks but no thanks’. And with no money coming now from the Prefecture, services are beginning to suffer.

The village operates its waste incinerator only once every three months because it has no money to pay for operations. The ¥680,000,000 waste facility was built only three years ago, with the Prefecture picking up ¥340,000,000 of the tab. Now cash strapped since losing ¥100,000,000 in government subsidies, the village can’t operate the state of the art facility.

Tonaki Village is slashing its budget now, cutting the number of local assembly members, despite their objections. All village office directors’ salaries are being reduced, but it’s still not enough.

“Such a tiny island can’t live without support,” says Tonaki Village Mayor Noboru Uehara. “By what money should the village people live? There is no work in this village, and no industrial jobs at all.” He questions why the Prefecture doesn’t offer better choices.

Tonaki Village has only enough money left to cover budgets for two years. After that, there’s no money for salaries or citizen services. They say they’ve heard the arguments that they must merge with Naha, but say they don’t want it.

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