Dalilah Pichler, KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research Austria
Building law is a highly complex legislation, which the local level governments are responsible for. Each of the Länder have their own legislation, which is equally implemented by all municipalities within the respective Land. It covers building procedures and negotiations as well as regional and spatial planning. Therefore, high technical and legal expertise is needed to provide quality consulting for citizens and legal certainty for the municipal government. Rural local governments (RLGs) particularly struggle to attract employees with such expertise. Due to small organizational structures and limited number of civil servants in RLGs, responsible individuals for building law cannot solely focus their work on this field, but also typically cover other working tasks. This is where the administrative association as a model for inter-municipal cooperation has proven to be a solution for facilitating the execution of building law for RLGs, but also urban local governments (ULGs) who have a central location within such clusters.
In 2002, the first analyses into the possibilities and advantages of inter-municipal cooperation in the field of building law and building rights administration were made and subsequently implemented three years later. The Land Vorarlberg in general pioneered in the conceptualization of this form of cooperation, based on one field of expertise, in Austria. In the region Vorderland, now the largest building law association in Vorarlberg, twelve municipalities with a total of 32,000 inhabitants are working together on a voluntary basis since 2005 in the form of an administrative association (Verwaltungsgemeinschaft). The goals are to achieve high quality legal services, improve customer orientation and implementing a modern organization while maintaining individual municipal autonomy. Further advantages of this joint administration are a uniform law enforcement and thus a higher degree of legal security, improved technical support for builders, strengthening the region, applying the same conditions for all builders and the inter-municipal approach to spatial planning issues.
The building law administrative association is responsible for all agendas of building law, water and sewer connections, house number assignment and building and apartment registration etc. The form of administrative association allows the mayor to remain the building authority of First Instance, but the head of the building law administrative association is empowered to make decisions and decrees in the name of the mayor.
Currently the association in the region Vorderland has four employees working for the twelve municipalities and process 700 building procedures annually.
The administrative association as a form of cooperation is particularly appealing to municipalities. For one the legal form is quite simple to establish as it does not form an own legal identity. The municipalities are connected to this legal agreement in the form of membership to the association. There is no transfer of competences and the independence of the municipality, its rights and obligations and the responsibilities of the mayor are therefore not affected. Thus, this is an attractive form for safeguarding the municipal autonomy. Furthermore, through the pooling of tasks which are uniform for all municipalities, in this case building law, higher professionalization, efficiency and relieving of human resources is possible.
The achievement of these benefits in the region Vorderland were confirmed by the Regional Court of Audit, who analyzed all building law administrative associations in Vorarlberg. In the region Vorderland the size of municipalities ranges from the smallest administration with less than 500 inhabitants and a middle-sized city with almost 12,000 inhabitants. Especially the smaller municipalities are benefitting through the legal and technical experts that are now solely focusing on building law procedures. This expertise not only facilitates the administration of RLGs but also the mayors, often part-time in such small villages, as they are liable for the administrative decisions.
The cooperation turned out to be such a success and exceeded the expectations of the members of the association. At the beginning there were only nine members, which then grew to twelve. Currently, the association is exploring the possibilities if other tasks can be integrated into the administrative association and they are reaching out the City of Feldkirch, with more than 30,000 inhabitants one of the larger cities of Vorarlberg, to include them in the association. ULGs can also benefit from such associations as building law is the first step towards joint regional and spatial planning, thus taking a regional approach in long term strategic development. Ongoing project development for the region Vorderland and at least six other building law administrative associations in Vorarlberg show that municipalities of all sizes are open to developing and implementing this form of cooperation. At the moment 40 per cent of municipalities in Vorarlberg and 60 per cent of very small municipalities (under 1,000 inhabitants) are cooperating in this form. This is also supported and incentivized by the Government of Vorarlberg, who provides funding for development costs (e.g. concept creation, process support, consultancy from experts, moderation), investment costs for jointly financed construction projects, personnel and material costs for the ongoing operation of new cooperations (start-up funding) and amalgamations. The possible funding amount is 50 per cent for development costs and between 20 and 45 per cent of investment costs. In the case of start-up funding for new cooperations, a flat rate is determined for expected personnel and material expenses.
To conclude, the administrative association in building law and in other municipal areas (e.g. registry offices) has become a very common form of cooperation in many other regions across Austria and is always regulated on the Länder level. Region Vorderland, however, was a pioneer in this field and the development of closer forms of cooperation is ongoing.
Bußjäger P, Hornsteiner F and Keuschnigg G, Interkommunale Zusammenarbeit in Vorarlberg: Strukturen und Möglichkeiten – eine Praxisanalyse (Institut für Föderalismus 2016)
Court of Audit of the Land Vorarlberg, ‘Baurechtsverwaltungen in Vorarlberg‘ (Audit Report 2016)
Wirth K, ‘Baurechtsverwaltung Region Vorderland‘ <http://verwaltungskooperation.at/index.php?title=Baurechtsverwaltung_Region_Vorderland> Website of the Association Region Vorderland-Feldkirch, <https://www.vorderland.com>
 Peter Bußjäger, Florian Hornsteiner and Georg Keuschnigg, Interkommunale Zusammenarbeit in Vorarlberg: Strukturen und Möglichkeiten – eine Praxisanalyse (Institut für Föderalismus 2016).
 Verein Region Vorderland-Feldkirch, <https://www.vorderland.com> accessed 24 July 2020.
 Court of Audit of the Land Vorarlberg, ‘Baurechtsverwaltungen in Vorarlberg’ (Audit Report 2016).