Life in Estonia's communes gets better for some

  • 2001-12-06
The rift between Estonia's rich and poor communes is continuing to widen, as can be seen in the contrast between the well-to-do Viimsi commune and struggling communes like Piirissaare on a Lake Peipsi island and the Moniste commune near the Latvian border.

While the budget at Viimsi, a self-governing rural commune just outside Tallinn where former President Lennart Meri built his house, is building a 25 million kroon ($1.4 million) health center and a new kindergarten, the situation at Piirissaare is a world removed. There the annual budget is slightly above a million kroons, most of it allocated from the state budget, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reported.

"The commune's biggest investment this year was repair of two kilometers of local roads," acting communal governor Kalju Sakk said. "We have dirt roads that get muddy in spring, so we covered them with a mixture of gravel and clay."

The cost of the road repair was 278,000 kroons.

Sakk earns about 1,500 kroons in pay each month, but says he is willing to stay in the position despite the dismal monetary return.

"It's a matter of honor to do this work," Sakk said when asked if the pay for the communal governor's work shouldn't be higher.

Piirissaare, with 100 inhabitants, earns a total of 60,000 kroons from commune members' income tax.

No government dollars flow to Viimsi, however. Communal governor Kaido Metsma said Viimsi is one of the few Estonian communes that receives no state subsidy.

But a 25 million kroon, eight-year loan from Hansapank does boost the figures in Viimsi's budget for this year. Metsma said the loan would have no adverse effect on the next year's budget.

Viimsi's location doesn't hurt its survival chances either. Due to geographical location alone there are about a hundred major undertakings in the commune, including oil transit firm Milstrand, Metsma said. Milstrand alone will pay 1.35 million kroons into the communal budget this year, a vital source of income for the commune.

Viimsi also boasts a high employment figure.

"As far as I know, two or three people from our commune officially put themselves down as unemployed half a year ago," Metsma said.

Sulev Liivik, Finance Ministry head in charge of local self-governed community budgets, said that communes in the southeastern corner of the country, like those on the banks of Lake Peipsi, are the hardest hit financially.

Also some East Viru county communes are quite poor. But the condition is most desolate for Tartu County's Piirissaare commune.

At the same time, there are very few self-governed communities in Estonia that will receive no state subsidies this year. Most of the communes that will be free of state funds lie around Tallinn.

"They comprise the towns of Saue and Keila, as well as the communes of Rae, Harju, Joelahtme, Saku and Viimsi," Liivik said.