At the end of the year of 2023, the Ukmerge municipality in central Lithuania was rewarded the coveted bronze statuette of "Auksine Krivule" (Golden Curve) (Krivule is a symbolic stick used to invite people to a community meeting, known as the Municipal “Oscar). The prestigious reward “For innovation, involvement and cooperation” came, according to Lithuanian Minister of Social Security and Labor Monika Navickiene, for being the flagship for other local governments in increasing availability of social housing. Ukmerge has increased it the most!
The Baltic Times Magazine spoke to Darius Varnas, the mayor of Ukmerge, about this honorable municipal award and why Ukmerge is the right place to live and invest.
Why is this award important to you?
Presenting the "Golden Curve" statuette to the Mayor of Ukmerge District Municipality, Darius Varnas, Minister of Social Security and Labor Monika Navickiene said that we are receiving this self-government "Oscar" for being a flagship – standing out from all the other municipalities by increasing the availability of social housing the most.
This award is very important for our municipal team, as it was received for consistent work in making not the easiest decisions. I am glad that those decisions contributed to housing affordability for low-income residents of our district and that the quality of housing improved in many cases. After all, the topic of social housing is quite sensitive throughout Lithuania.
70 flats for the purpose – it was by so many that the Municipality increased the availability of social housing during 2018-2022. Modernizing the abandoned and dilapidated former school dormitory that stood empty for many years made it feasible – in all, 28 social purpose flats, belonging to the Municipality, were added to our disposition.
Notably, throughout the years, we managed to preserve the building, not to demolish it, which was an option too.
Another 35 flats for the purpose were installed in the former building of the Ukmerge children's care home after the children were moved in family like-groups to live in separate houses bought by the Municipality.
During 2013-2023, the number of people (families) waiting for social housing in the district decreased from 312 to 87. The average waiting time for social housing is 2-2.5 years. And in 2024 we plan to expand the social housing availability by purchasing flats for large families and persons with disabilities.
For the expansion of social housing affordability, the municipality also successfully uses the resources obtained from the auction sale of social housing that is not fit for living. For example, does not meet hygiene requirements, does not have water supply, sewerage, bathroom and toilet facilities. During 2018-2022, 17 flats of the kind were sold.
How would you introduce Ukmerge to those who know the mere fact that it is in the middle of Lithuania?
The symbol of the origins of the town of Ukmerge is a mound standing on the bank of the river Sventoji, framed by a wonderful old town, one of the seven most distinguished old towns in the country. When it comes to Ukmerge, it's hard to resist the temptation to immerse yourself in the wonders of the legends of Vilkmerge, which refers to a local priestess, a guardian of sacred fire, a white she-wolf, a holy sacrifice – all of them are still cherished and retold.
Ukmerge is a city with the oldest traditions, where Vytautas the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte left their footprints. This is the land that gave Lithuania its first president, Antanas Smetona. In Ukmerge, at Lithuania's largest crossroads, the past and the future converge.
Full of history, heritage and being surrounded by nature, Ukmerge is not only a refreshing escape from the bustling life of a big city, but it also offers many opportunities for nature lovers, young families, and businesses.
Approximately, one million and 200 thousand inhabitants live around Ukmerge within a distance of 70 kilometers. It takes up to one hour to get to the biggest citiesVilnius, Kaunas and Panevezys.
What infrastructure improvement, made in recent years in Ukmerge, are you most proud of?
In the quest to make the town safer, cozier, more beautiful and more comfortable, during 2019-2023 we have completed several solid projects: a more than 5-kilometer-long section of bicycle and pedestrian path connecting the city of Ukmerge with the settlement of Vidiškiai has been installed on the national highway A6 Kaunas-Zarasai-Daugpilis; public spaces in the center of Ukmerge, including Kestutis Square, Friendship Square and Pilies Park and its vicinity, have been modernized; a pedestrian path has been built on the banks of the Sventoji River and an attractive public space suitable for passive and active leisure time has been created; a 12.5-hectare Health Park has been established next to the Ukmerge hospital; a square in Vilnius Street has been opened, as well as the main intersection in the city was reconstructed; the former military town of the long-gone Soviet Army and its adjacent territory (20 ha in total) were cleared and new leisure infrastructure, like sports fields, Mini Lietuva park, children's playgrounds, etc., was created; two roundabouts were installed; almost 30 kilometres of streets and roads were paved; Ukmerge Hospital had many of its departments modernized, the sports halls of many schools were renovated and their lighting was improved; the street lighting has been modernized in the entire city.
The municipality was one of the first in the country to modernize its existing transport fleet by purchasing three ecological and economical electric cars.
Besides, a 3.6 MW solar power park was built in Ukmerge, as well as the southern bypass project was initiated and revived; in addition, the installation of water supply and sewage networks in gardeners' communities was met very positively by most of the population.
And what are the main companies of Lithuanian or foreign capital in the municipality?
We have quite a few strong and famous companies. Here are just some of them: UAB Systemair, UAB Stansefabrikken, UAB Hennordic, UAB Wurth Lietuva, UAB Ukmerges gelzbetonis, AB Vilkma, UAB Jusema Logistics, UAB Universalus medzio produktai, UAB Uzmojai su garantijomis, UAB Likmere, UAB Stansefabrikken Automotive, UAB Antara LT, UAB Dairyhub.LT, UAB Teksasas, UAB Litbike, UAB Paina ir Ko, UAB Grosso Moda Lithuania, UAB UMP Technika, UAB Aukmerges baldai, UAB Narbutas International, UAB Ukmerges pramones parkas, UAB Ukmerges keliai, UAB ELGA Ukmerges affiliate and others.
Why is it worth investing in Ukmerge?
We often ask ourselves the question: why did the wealthy landlords build mansions in the Ukmerge region?
Apparently, not only for a good life, but also because already during the medieval, and later, time the region was valued for its advantages and discovered as attractive, convenient and strategically located in an excellent geographical position.
Today's Ukmerge is a convenient, reliable, friendly and growing city. The municipality has several noteworthy proposals for future investors. These are unused plots of vacant state land, a well-developed logistics and communication network, the Ukmerge School of Technology and Business, capable of training the necessary wide-profile specialists, etc. The attitude of the district authorities towards business is positive. For this, we have an approved small and medium-sized business (SME) program, an investment promotion programe, which details how entrepreneurs can apply to the Municipality for any business support. The coworking space "Spiecius" is also successfully operating in Ukmerge, providing a non-traditional type of business development space suitable especially for SME entities to cooperate with each other and expand.
And what are the most famous sightseeing spots in Ukmerge?
We are proud of our unique, the only one of its kind in Lithuania, the "Ring of Manors" route, which consists of eight manors surrounding the perimeter of the Ukmerge district. Among these manors is the mansion-turned-museum of the first president of the Republic of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, in Uzugiris.
The Siesikai Castle, a bastion from the 16th century, has withstood the test of time as one of Lithuania's earliest Renaissance buildings. Everyone who visits the "Ring of Manors" experiences the whiff of a manor life, gets to know their architecture, impressive surroundings, and impressive parks. Each of those mansions has its own charm – some are in ruins, others have been resurrected, and others became the place of interesting events.
We also invite everyone to have a fun walk around the city on the interactive route "Singing Pigeons of Ukmerge”, to visit the Ukmerge Local History Museum in the city center, to see and feel the unique spirit of the old town of Ukmerge, to climb the originally illuminated serpentine path to the 14th-15th century mound and do many other things.
By the way, only two Lithuanian cities, Ukmerge and Vilnius, can boast of having mounds in their very center!
How does the municipality support young families?
Since 2018, the municipality has been giving all newborns a practical gift, the "Newborn's crib" with the necessary items for the first months of the baby's life, and from 2022, all first graders in the district receive a set of the most necessary school tools, known as the "First-year basket" gift.
in 2021, we adopted a program for the stabilization and growth of the population of Ukmerge district, which provides benefits for those coming to live here.
One of them is the possibility to recover personal income tax (PIT) – up to 50 percent of it. The municipality along with the state provide young families municipal financial support to purchase their first home. The municipality allocates up to 10 percent of the amount of housing credit for the purpose, but not more than five thousand euros.
Another incentive is for people, living in rural areas and do not have the technical ability to connect to centralized water supply networks and such networks are not planned to be installed in the next two years – the municipality compensates up to two thousand euro for drilling new water wells and installing the necessary sewage treatment facilities.
Since Ukmerge, like other cities in the country, faces a shortage of young specialists (teachers, doctors), we have prepared programs to attract them to the district. Teachers are offered everything from reimbursement of travel expenses, well-being programs, excellent conditions for self-improvement, to financing of pedagogical studies.
In the prepared program, an annual cash payment of at least 5,000 euros is provided for the first three years to attract doctors of the missing specialty; compensation for residency studies up to 35,000 euros, also the doctor can be allocated municipal housing; if he or she settles in Ukmerge and commits to working here for five years; an allowance of up to 25,000 euros can be paid to the doctor.
Ukmerge is also attractive to young people because it has excellent conditions for spending their free time. The swimming pool has been renovated, sports fields have been installed, sports halls have been renovated in schools, and modern outdoor tennis, beach tennis and other sports fields have been installed on the territory of the former military town.
And what was the year 2023 like for Ukmerge?
First of all, it was a major jubilee year. In 2023 Ukmerge celebrated its 690th anniversary. Throughout the year, many various events were held to mark this occasion. We managed to successfully complete many different projects. The year 2023 was good, bright and memorable!
Ukmerge, like its people, is a constantly changing, dynamic city, full of culture, stunning nature, business opportunities, and is perfectly suitable for young families to settle down. We invite everyone to explore and experience the charm of Ukmerge.