Dario Runtic, NALAS Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe
Inter-municipal cooperation of the Island of Krk is one of the very few examples of inter-municipal cooperation combining informal cooperation and planning, joint public service funding and delivery. It contradicts inexistent cooperation practices through a variety of intergovernmental relations. Furthermore, it raises important questions related to preconditions or enablers of inter-municipal cooperation in an environment that does not seem to discourage nor incentivize inter-municipal cooperation.
This practice is an example how (in)formal inter-municipal cooperation and planning can address problematic realities of the urban-rural divide.
The Island of Krk is located in the North Adriatic Sea. It has a surface area of 405km2 and a population of 17,860. It is connected to a mainland by a 1430m long tolled bridge constructed in 1976-1980 period. The distance between the Island of Krk and the nearest large economic hub (the City of Rijeka, population of 120,000, third largest local government in Croatia) is 22km. The key industries are tourism, agriculture and oil.
During the period of 1945-1992 the Island of Krk used to be a single unit of local government. In 1992 it was fragmented just as the rest of Croatia into 7 local government units – the City of Krk and 6 rural municipalities. The Island remained fragmented until this day. Historic records claim the Island was divided into 5 areas from the 7th to the 19th century.
The legislative framework for local governance, funding, employment and other areas relevant for inter-municipal cooperation applies equally to island and inland municipalities.
In the period of fragmentation in 1992, an informal coordination of city and municipal mayors of the Island was created as a means of coordinated planning and development of the island. There is scarce evidence on the establishment and methods of operation of the coordination. Interviews with the coordination members reveal that coordination meetings are challenging, but with realistic outcomes. Further, it notes that the coordination meetings are taking place at regular intervals depending on the urgency of matters to be addressed and all local governments are required to act accordingly. Recent public disclosures, especially related to Covid-19 pandemic, confirm regular activities of the coordination and the fact that the conclusions of the coordination are being translated into operational, legislative and development actions of individual local governments.
Besides of informal coordination, there are formal cooperation mechanisms in place. All local units are owners of the local utility company called Ponikve. Although the joint utility company was not established as a result of voluntary cooperation initiative, as discussed above, it is still being jointly managed by all local government units. Originally established in 1960s the company was tasked with fresh water production. In 1986 it merged with a utility company from Omišalj and expanded operation into waste management, maintenance of public and green areas, cemetery and wastewater. Since 1991 until today due to national legislative changes various services were outplaced into specialized companies owned by island local governments which provide those services for the whole island. National legislative changes required that water supply and wastewater services must operate as individual entities. In effect, this forced local governments to split Ponikve into three specialized companies – (i) water services and sewer, (ii) waste collection, construction, electricity and other communal services and (iii) shared services.
Communal utility companies of the Island of Krk are highly reputable companies in this sector with exceptional results compared to their peers. Water supply losses in Croatia, according to various public sources, are approximately 40 per cent of water extracted from the wells. Ponikve officially reports losses below 20 per cent. Over the last 20 years, the number of users connected to waste water services linearly grew from 1,500 to 11,683 users. Over the last 15 years, the share of recyclable waste collected increased from 18 to 57.8 per cent.
The firefighting service for the whole island is jointly funded and provided through the island’s Firefighting Union. Members of the Union are Professional Fire Brigade Krk and voluntary firefighting associations of island municipalities. All local governments are signatory to two Agreements on financing fire protection which include funding for regular services, firefighting and development of fire protection system.
Furthermore, all island local governments have established a joint kindergarten/preschool facility and provide joint funding for this service. There is a central kindergarten/preschool facility and municipal outposts which provide service to residents of various municipalities while the central facility also provides shared services for outposts.
Although not directly related to inter-municipal cooperation it is also worth noting that the city has initiated activities related to development of its own fiber-optics broadband network in 2009. The island’s local governments are also actively attracting new technologies and services to the island, including network of e-mobility chargers, IoT demonstration sites, etc.
Although the enabling or preventing effects of legislation on inter-municipal cooperation were not studied in-depth, the example of Island of Krk demonstrates that the current legislation does not have a preventing effect. The cooperation does not seem to be a product of a broad political platform, so one could raise a valid question whether the cooperation is geographically conditioned.
However, the fact that other islands have not established broad cooperation mechanisms raises a question whether there are potential obstacles in the process or should the legislation provide (or highlight any existing) incentives for cooperation. Further research on historical or other issues related to Krk cooperation is advised.
Law no 110/2015 on Territories of Counties, Cities and Municipalities
Law no 98/2019 on Local and Regional Self-Government
Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:
Antic T and Ivanovic M, Handbook for Inter-Municipal Cooperation (Association of Municipalities 2011)
Pigey J H and Tomašević V, ‘Inter-municipal Cooperation and Public Service Provision: International Practices, Case Studies in Croatia and Recommendations’ (The Urban Institute/USAID 2006)