Toys, Taxes and Torture at the Town Council

The town council meeting on Thursday, 21st November, 2013, was always going to be centred around the budget for the forthcoming year.  But with the debate lasting over two hours, each of the parties was determined to have their say.

It was Councillor Markus Bürgel who kicked off the debate for the CDU, noting that Oberursel had reached the point where savings could no longer be made without the effects being visible.  He was critical of the national government in Berlin for taking decisions that the local level then has to pay for, without providing any means of financing them, although he was quick to point out that in the last 15 years almost all national parties had taken part in those decisions.

He commented that savings on services that fall in the “social” area where difficult to make, but that if there was no other option the voluntary services in this area would fall foul of the spending cuts.  He called these services the “head of the social department’s toys” (Spielzeuge des Sozialdezernenten)!

As regards the plan to make residents pay for their roads when they need to be renewed approximately every 30 years, the CDU in Oberursel are against it, he explained, placing them at odds with their own District Administrator, also a CDU member, who has told the town they must introduce them.

They are also against the introduction of a tax on second homes, savings in crime prevention, reducing the amount spent on the annual carnival procession, and would like to see a number of jobs go in the town hall.

Moving on, if there was a prize for the longest speech of the evening, then Dr. Eggert Winter (SPD) would have won it.  He spoke for a total of 50 minutes, and started by reading from the District Administrator’s letter approving the 2013 budget and the terms under which he would accept the 2014 one, at the same time being critical of the CDU and calling them “disobedient” for not adhering to them.

He felt that the increase in land-owners’ tax was something that the politicians were able to defend to the people, but also pointed out that a lot of the revenue that the town generates is simply passed on to the “Kreis” level, in part to pay for schools.

As far as the cost of road renewal was concerned, he pointed out that this could be decided over the town’s head if they do not put rules in place themselves, citing this possibility and that of the budget 2014 not being approved as the “local authority’s instruments of torture”.  He called the CDU’s position one of populism – something he said of the OBG only a month earlier.

Other topics that he touched on were the plans to close the restaurant in the Stadthalle, the cost of looking after monuments, and even the shops in the town centre.

He was critical of plans to reduce the headcount in the town hall by not replacing those who leave, regarding this as a long-term plan but not something that would save money in the short-term.

But when it came to the “Bärenkreuzung” crossing, he was full of praise.  “The Bärenkreuzung will look splendid when it is finished” he commented, and also of the developments in the “Drei Hasen” commercial area – “it’s buzzing there” (“es brummt”) – no doubt a play on the name of the mayor, also an SPD member.

Finally he recommended the councillors to read pages 4 to 107 of the budget document, because it contained such useful information.

Councillor Wolfgang Schmitt, speaking for the Green Party, took only half as long for his speech, and headed into a comparison with the US Congress.  Not only, that Dr. Winter would be suitable to hold a long speech there, but that Oberursel could find itself in a similar state to the USA if the budget was not approved.

He talked about the problem that “after-work politicians” had with understanding the budget system, but also noted the increased interest in it among the population.

Commenting on the proposed closure of the “Jugendtreffs” in Stierstadt and Weißkirchen, he commented that “politicians do listen” and praised the young people at the way they had protested during the Bürgerversammlung.

And then he picked up on one suggestion that had been made by a member of the public – to put up a sign in front of the town hall showing how much debt through borrowing the town had.

However Coucillor Robert Rethfeld (OBG) was a completely different course, pleading for the introduction of the second-home tax and citing examples of the income this had generated in Schmitten and Neu-Anspach.  He called for more help for the politicians in understanding the budget, but went on to criticise many of the projects that are already in progress such as the swimming pool and the Bärenkreuzung.  He even went as far as to comment on future building plans.  But at the end of the day, after suggesting that more income could be generated by additional fees in the library, his main point was the the OBG would reject the budget because they could not see any real attempt to make savings in it.

Councillor Rainer Voß (FDP) was also critical of the budget document, asking the question “when can we have a budget with figures that we can compare to previous years”, referring to the fact that some items have been re-assigned to new “products”.

He said that his party would reject the road renewal fees and the increase in land owners’ tax in 2016, was critical of the fact that the Bärenkreuzung would not be completed as had originally been planned, and was also critical of the long-term rental contract that the town has for the library, apparently until 2023.

It was pointed out to him, that the said contract was signed by an FDP member of the administration, now no longer in office, to which he commented “the FDP makes mistakes as well”.

But at the end of the day, rejecting parts of the budget was not enough to reject all of it, he announced that the FDP would be abstaining.

Finally, Councillor Ingmar Schlegel (Die Linke) kept his speech short.  He also praised the young people for fighting to keep their “Jugendtreff” and demanded that other levels of government should support the town more rather than putting obstacles in its way.

He said he would rather raise the land owners’ tax than see social institutions closed, and he would also support the road renewal fees.  He would also support the introduction of the second-home tax, if students were exempt, but even without this he was prepared to vote for the budget as it was.

In the vote that followed, all except the FDP (who abstained) and the OBG (who voted against) voted in favour of the budget, which will now be sent to the District Administrator for approval.

Which just leaves one question unanswered.  Dr.Winter suggested that the councillors should read the budget document because of the valuable information in it.  Does that mean that they voted on something that they had not all read?

 

About Graham Tappenden

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Oberursel in 1993 and returned with his family to live there in 2003. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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