On 27 September, Winterthur’s Reformed voters vote on the upgrading of the city association or the merger of its seven parishes into one large parish. However, the idea that a large merger would lead to a more cost-effective administration with more professional staff has not been confirmed in the Canton of Glarus. More centralisation also weakens the democratic rights of citizens to a say.
In 2006, the Canton of Glarus decided to make three municipalities out of the then 25 in the canton. Since 2011, the merger has been implemented and the single municipality has become a fact. This also meant that there are no school authorities anymore. In order for a decision e.g. of the rectorate (head of the school board) to be reviewed by the community assembly today, a great deal of effort is required. The effects of mergers of municipalities and parishes are very similar. Politicians and the media often see a matter from a different (sometimes more euphemistic) point of view than the inhabitants.
What we cannot calculate exactly is the financial burden of the merger. The fact is that the canton and the municipalities changed their tasks and thus their expenditures during the merger. In this way, the canton wanted to reduce its costs. In all three municipalities, however, taxes had to be increased at least once since the merger!
In Glarus North, eight municipalities were merged. A balance between large and small villages has not been planned. So there is no “minority protection”. Let me give you an example of this: In a smaller village (about 300 inhabitants) they wanted to build next to the school building. Signatures were collected against it. At the community meeting, a vote was taken, not only by the inhabitants of this smaller village, but also by participants from larger villages with more than 10,000 inhabitants. The majority voted against the “signature collectors”. Without the merger, this would probably have turned out differently.
Ten years after the “Extraordinary Landsgemeinde,” we held a meeting of the former fellow campaigners. All of them reported on their experiences after the merger. It was agreed that “bureaucratisation” has become a fact.
An example of this: it was found that a piece of fencing was needed in a place with a steep slope. In the previous community, one contact would have been enough, and the fence would have been in place. Now four contacts were needed until the fence stood – but in the wrong place!
One difficulty for the employees was that the merged municipality as a large employer was now a different legal entity. This meant that it had to employ many people within about a quarter of a year – everything had to work. Only the teachers and employees of the retirement homes were excluded. They kept their contracts.
With “professionalisation” a new way of dealing with the employees was introduced. One employee who wanted to optimise work processes heard: “If you don’t like it, you can leave”. The employee quit, and so the community lost a capable employee. Much personal knowledge (especially important for a functioning church community!) was lost.
The other day there was an article in a daily Glarus newspaper entitled: “Improving political participation”. Some commentators argued that the legitimacy of political decisions was endangered by poorly attended church meetings. What has happened since the merger? People go to community meetings much less often: disenchantment with politics. People have less to say than before. In this respect, the smaller units are superior to the larger ones.
In the rear part of Glarus, five church communities merged. After some time, one of my church council colleagues said: “The merger has failed”. In the same year, the president of the merged parish said: “The merger is not yet completed”. Both spoke of the same process, but expressed it very differently.
One of the common arguments in favour of the merger was that you can’t find enough people for the authorities. The parish of Niederurnen, in which I am involved, is the only parish in Glarus North that has remained independent. We have always been able to occupy all the batches of our parish. In the church district, i.e. in the other parishes, there are sometimes longstanding and drastic vacancies.
What you can say with certainty is that merging or joining the church district is no guarantee for filling all the batches!
In conclusion, mergers must be examined with great care. Even if they are modern, they can have serious disadvantages. Would the people of Glarus still agree to a merger today? •
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