What does not allow investment coming to Utena?

Published on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 22:35
MAGAZINE BUSINESS AND EXHIBITIONS January, 2012
Rimantas Šlajus
Is there anybody who has not heard about Utena industrial park, the first investment object of such economic type in Lithuania?
I myself, when driving to meet the mayor Alvydas Katinas, decided to start my talk with him from this object. By investment and the amount of assimilated European funds, Utena is among leaders, and probably already leads in Lithuania. To put it short, during the programming period 2007-2013, Utena District Municipality assimilated nearly 32.5 percent of funds of quotas intended for regional measures, whereas the same indicator in Utena region does not go up to 20 percent and Lithuania's average is even by one more percentage point lower. The gap is even larger in the assimilation of funds for investment instruments: indicators of Lithuania and Utena region reach 12 and 18 percent respectively, whereas Utena District Municipality has overpassed 33 percent of the total quota intended forthis programming line. In terms of money, the value of completed investment projects in 2008 made about 18.5 million litas, in 2009-nearly 104 million litas (in 2009, Utena District Municipality received the award of the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania "Auksinė krivūlė" for the best assimilation of EU support in Lithuania), in 2010 - 93.5 million litas.
A man acquainted with such figures should become very surprised when he hears the chief architect and ideologist ofthe investment policy in the district speaking about problems.
-The first obstacle which does not allow investment coming to our district is that we do not have free land for investment development, - the mayor Alvydas Katinas says.-And we do not have it because the land reform was not coordinated with municipalities. It has happened so that all lands surrounding the town have been privatized. After this land reform, Utena as an industrial town, had one way out-the industrial park. However, in 2003, the Constitutional Court passed a ruling to restore ownership rights to free land also to urban residents. Claimants to the land in the Utena industrial park brought Utena municipality to court and won the case. Utena industrial park could be the Klondike for the implementation of investment projects. Alas, mistakes of former heads of the towns
- territorial planning documents were not put into order, detailed plans were not drawn
- stopped the investment and took away a chance from Utena people to have more jobs.
The question arises who should defend the public interest of the people in Utena and in Lithuania in general?
The mayor says that the second obstacle for the development of investment and the town is the refusal to give state land in towns to own in trust to municipalities. The land in Utena either belongs to the state or is private. This, by all means, does not allow investment to come to Utena or makes the process very expensive. This is not only a barrier for the arrival of private capital but also negatively affects the assimilation of EU structural funds.
- It's hard to imagine that Utena, the town so popular among tourists, does not have a hotel, -the mayor says. - And it doesn't have it because we cannot get 0.7 ha of urban land to own in trust where the hotel could be built. The period when county administrations were liquidated was the best time to solve the issue of passing state land to own in trust to municipalities. However, neither Seimas nor Government wanted to do that. The town of Utena stands on the state land, which means that it as if hangs in the air...
This year, Alvydas Katinas has published the second poetry book "Nugalėję lygumas". The author creates poetic metaphors and images with the unexpected irony or even a dosage of sarcasm. However we should also allow an idea that the mayor, like the writer, used his administrative experience then looking for a book title. To defeat the plans might mean the everyday fights with bureaucratic rules. The mayor says that state institutions are involved in the control of correct assimilation of EU funds only. They forget that they live from the people's money and must not only control but also consult and explain the mistakes.
-I think that state institutions should be involved in prevention, help us to avoid going to courts or stopping investment, - Alvydas Katinas says.
- Utena District Municipality is implementing many strategic projects financed from the EU structural funds, - the mayor explains. - It's a usual case that a private company participating in the tender for selection of a contractor and do not winning it, goes to a court. This is why the beginning of works is delayed. The question arises again who will be guilty when the EU funds will have to be returned to Brussels due to long legal processes in courts and unrealized works. Nobody will. The public interest is not defended even if the funds are already assimilated. For example, from 2005 Utena is implementing the water-supply and wastewater network development projects. In 2010, the huge investment project was completed: 27.28 km of water supply and 38.95 km of wastewater networks, 9 wastewater pump stations and 1 water pump stations were built. 99 percent of Utena residents have a possibility to get connected to public water-supply and wastewater collection system. They have the possibility however are very slow in connecting to water-supply and waste-water system. There isn't legislation for compulsory connection of individual houses to these systems and we cannot use any administrative sanctions. Utena District Municipality has decided to encourage people by granting special compensations. The compensations are intended for those owners of buildings in Utena whose average monthly income per family member is not larger than 900 litas. They may get the compensation of 500 for the connection to wastewater infrastructure and 1000 litas-to water-supply system. I must say that people are very interested in the system of compensations.
Utena is an industrial district. The Head of Economic Development and Project Management Division of the Municipality Algirdas Gildutis lists large companies, like the textile company Utenos trikotažas, Utenos alus (Utena Beer), also a small Swedish company KTS manufacturing agricultural machinery; the Norwegian company does not curse the fate and the qualified labour force and manufactures chains for car wheels for export. Utena district is also the land of astounding lakes. This is why the main goal of the mayor is to protect them from pollution with wastewater, to arrange beaches and accesses to lakes.
This year, Utena has been celebrating its 750th anniversary. To mark the occasion, a singing fountain with a water screen has been put in the middle of the lake.
Recently, Utena District Mayor Alvydas Katinas has returned from South Korea with an award "The International Awards for Liveable Communities 2011" for his attempts to make Utena a town safe and pleasant to live in. In truth, Utena has got experience in similar contests: in 2007, in London, it was granted a silver award for innovations and improvement of life quality. Then, it defended 300 rivals from all over the world to get to the finals of the contest.
Innovations and life quality in Utena mean investment into biofuel boilers (Utena is listed among five municipalities in Lithuania with the cheapest district heating and has reduced the district heating price by 11 per cent from January next year), beginning of construction of heat and power plant, continuing reconstruction of public infrastructure and public areas, renovation of schools, kindergartens, culture centers, administrative buildings, roads and pavements in towns, construction of A. and M. Miškiniai public library in Utena recognized as the best object of architecture, and a new church, opening of unique Ceramics Museum in Leliū¬nai enriched with the pottery collection given as a gift by the king of pots Vytautas Valiušis to the museum. The homework of Utena people is also a new sports arena, beginning of renovation of the old Utenis stadium to cost 17.5 million litas. No less famous is Juventus basketball team in Lithuania's highest league composed of only Lithuania-born players. There is a baseball ground in Utena which meets European standards; European-level Rašė hippodrome is under reconstruction.
The inseparable part of the life quality and personal maturity is protection of homeless animals - each year Utena District Municipality allocats 140 thousand litas for this purpose. The mayor says that 700 out of 1000 foundlings find new homes. Last year, 583 out of 849 animals living in an animal protection centre which functions four years found new owners. This is how the small monetary investment creates the immeasurable value.