The federal government owes the Walloon communities €300 million

  • All the Walloon communities required to produce 2014 budgets are scrambling to finish by year-end.
  • It’s taking a lot of creativity to maintain a balance. But at what cost?
  • Anything goes to grab a few lost euros here and there.

“We don’t think we’ll see a scenario like the mass layoff of 32 members of the Colfontaine cleaning crew”, remarks Paul Furlan (PS) the local government minister. “Most budget trimming starts on the margins. Any such measure, however, must first be submitted for review, otherwise I will have to become involved. New standards have been adopted to contain personnel expenses, but these aren’t mandatory. They’re only there as guidelines and not a requirement that could cause a budget to be disapproved.”

The temptation, however, remains. Personnel expenses continue to represent the lion’s share of the budget, almost 40%. Last June, the Walloon city and community union condemned “the exponential government staff cost increases”: €2.2 billion for overall Belgian local government entities (communities, Brussels public centers for social aid [CPAS], local authorities, police) and €581 million just for Walloon local government. Of this last number €150 million goes solely to police districts in the southern part of the country.

Claude Eerdekens (PS) recently drew attention to the Arches police district: “Our employer pension contribution is about to climb from 23.5% to 36.6% by 2018.” The mayor ran the figures: the cost overrun for the district’s five communities will reach €6.5 million in 5 years, more than half of Andenne’s expenses.

“Heinous laws”

“Impossible to pay! Appalling! Apocalyptic”, hurls Eerdekens in the direction of ministers Furlan (PS) and Joëlle Milquet (CDH). The local official is predicting an overall loss of employment ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 local Walloon officers.

The minister of the interior had the opportunity to respond to the mayor of Andenne. He insisted that the Federal government would release credits that would allow the city to partially neutralize the effects of the rising pension contributions. Joëlle Miquel even stated that “The Arches police district should receive a credit of a little over one million (EUR) between 2013 and 2018 to compensate for the increased contribution rates.”

The Andenne resident, however, is not taking it lying down. The Federal government, by loading down the communities with the reforms and new missions without the finances with which to perform them, is sinking local budgets.

Eerdekens doesn’t mince words and calls them “heinous laws”. The Walloon city and community union has nothing different to say regarding the federal attitude: “The communities’ financial efforts are being stymied by the increased loads being placed upon them. Unfortunately, the federal State often makes decisions that affect local government entities with no regard to the zero financial impact principle” according to the latest issue of “Mouvement Communal”.

The community union has added up the local shortfalls and cost overruns stemming from federal measures that affect police, firefighters and CPAS for a staggering total of €301.5. Sixty million EUR in financial risk related to the property tax litigation between the tax authorities and Belgacom must also be added to that total.

These sums defy imagination: €127.2 million for non-compliance with the 50/50 shared fire district financing clause and €53 million to finance the anti-exclusion policy for the unemployed. Under these conditions, some do not hesitate to announce the end of the communities.

ERIC DEFFET

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