IF ONLY EVERYONE
Interactive city budget
Martuni may become the first town in Armenia
to introduce participatory budgeting

Sara Khojoyan
reporter
Labor migration to Russia began in Martuni back in Soviet days and little has changed since the independence: men, young and middle-aged, spend greater part of the year abroad, to earn living for their families.
In this community in Gegharquniq region, with population of some 15 000, around one third of the residents are labor migrants living in Russia. Out of more than 9000 people remaining in the town the number of officially registered unemployed, various sources say, ranges from 1500 to 7376.

The population in Martuni dropped for 5.4% between 2011 and 2015, which exceeded the average migration index across the republic for about 18%.

According to the 5-year plan for town development more than 5850 residents live beyond the administrative confines of the town.

Armen Avetisyan, head of the town since 2016, sees the alarming situation as an additional opportunity for the development of the community.

Uniting the businesspeople, native of Martuni, working abroad, as well as local entrepreneurs, Avetisyan has managed to solve problems haunting the community.

"We had planned to spend AMD 7.4 million of the budget funds for the renovation of a kindergarten, but the works have cost us AMD 15.2 million. The first investment, AMD 500 000, were the contribution I made into this project myself; the rest of the money was donated by our businesspeople," says mayor Avetisyan.

Joining the community efforts, the administration has organized the cleaning and improvement of the vitally important public beach in Martuni, without spending a penny from the town budget.
Martuni mayor
Armen Avetisyan
video: Anahit Minasyan
Avetisyan says the 70% reduction of expenses (against the expenses in 2016) in residential construction and utilities sector last year were possible owing to the private investments.

Social security expenses have been reduced for 35% for the same reason, adds the mayor, since "only the really needy people get the support", while those capable to work are encouraged to get a job. The town is mostly involved in agriculture and light industries. Armen Avetisyan says the town plans opening small agricultural food, as well as stone processing factories.

"We have reached an agreement with the governor of Saratov (Russia) to process and export basalt stone, the raw material we have here. We have implemented a small cattle industry project. A dairy production has recently opened in Lusadzor community; at present they have just 50 cows, but that's ok, for the most important thing is to start," Avetisyan underlines.
Mayor Avetisyan optimized some of the expenses in the town budget soon after he took up the post. Starting with the phones of the municipality, Avetisyan ordered disconnecting the phone service as an unnecessary burden on the budget.
photo: Anahit Minasyan
Avetisyan underlines the savings made on electricity budget: comparing the number of the light bulbs and the hours when electricity is consumed, the mayor set a limit on the budget for electricity in 2017, and informed the power supply company about it, which helped the town save AMD 14 million.

"We will soon start an outdoor lighting program: we will get a loan to switch to solar power and will replace the old bulbs with LED bulbs. Our calculations prove the new system will help provide street illumination to 80% of the town; we plan to cover the expenses with the savings we anticipate. Our savings will equal AMD 12 million in five years," says Avetisyan.

Yeghiazar Davtyan of Martuni Women's Community Council NGO has been in the town council under the previous administration. He says locals trust the new head of the administration, which is why the community is actively engaged in the town development initiatives.

"The locals collected 60 000 dollars to build a church in 2017," recalls Davtyan as an example of the community involvement.

Lianna Hovhannisyan, coordinator at the InfoTun run by the same NGO stresses the importance of the mayor's commitment to make the town administration more transparent.

"Bagrat Harutyunyan, the former mayor, looked bothered every time he would see me at council meetings and would always ask me of the reason I had come to the session. The new mayor is more open, and informs the date and the agenda of the council meeting beforehand," she says.

Hovhannisyan says the live broadcasts of the town council meetings impact the decisions, which are made there.

"They could lie about the decisions made at the meetings in those days, and people had no tool to check. And yet, people look indifferent: they don't really think they might have any impact on the decision-making," says Lianna Hovhannisyan.
Yeghiazar Davtyan believes, though, people's voices are heard by the town administration.
photo: Anahit Minasyan
"People talk behind the curtains, I must confess. They prefer to stay unidentified even when they sign petitions on any problem of concern. But problems are solved only when they are voiced. Last September we had a problem with the garbage trucks. I published a story on our organization's blog and the problem got solved. The trucks used to be parked in the town square: the problem was to find another place for the trucks," Davtyan recalls.

Davtyan shares about the monitoring of utility services conducted last summer. "Now they call us every day to report about the work they have done; they now work on Sundays, too. Standing for a cause and having public supervision impact the decision-making and yields results."

The platform created in a joint effort by the representatives of civil society and the local authorities provides efficient tool for the community development, where participatory budgeting plays a crucial role.
The problems persevering in the town include poor quality of community roads, high levels of unemployment, labor migration, and poverty touching about 80% of the population.
Photo: Gayane Mirzoyan
 
 
 
 
The wiring devices plant, food preserves and cheese factories, the “Sigma” and “Ani” enterprises, as well as the wool mill are either at a standstill, or operate at only 10% of their production capacities, which fuels the unemployment in the community.
Photo: Anahit Minasyan
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
40% of the town population are involved in agriculture, another 20% do commerce.
Photo: Anahit Minasyan
Women in this town get along on their own most of the year, while men are abroad as labor migrants (mostly in Russia) from early spring till late autumn or the New Year holidays.
Photo: Anahit Minasyan
 
 
 
 
The improved public beach in Martuni has turned into a unique recreation area that attracts locals and equally guests from other regions, where people spend their leisure time and holidays.
Photo: Gayane Mirzoyan
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Renovation of St Mariam Church in Martuni, which was initiated with the investments from both the municipality and private investors, has been underway since 2015.
Photo: Anahit Minasyan
 
 
 
 
The town administration plans renovation of yard territories, as well as 30-40% of roads requiring restoration, in 2018.
Photo: Gayane Mirzoyan
The participatory budget lets the town residents manage part of the local budget.

"This is a type of public participation in the local administration. They promised around AMD 5 million in grants during the annual budget discussions, but this question still needs to be discussed at the upcoming town council meeting," says Hovhannisyan.

A significant portion the community's yearly budget is spent on education; in 2017 it reached 40.6% of the total, followed by general public expenses, which equal 30%. The environmental protection matters required 13% of local budget, and the leisure, culture, and religious expenses cost the town 10% of its annual budget for the same period.

Residential construction and utility services in 2017 cost the community only about 2% of the local funds, and the social security spending made 1%.



Yet, the online poll conducted by Urbanista proves that the residents of the town would prefer to see road repairs and yard territory improvements on a priority list of the budget allocations.
How the municipal budget of Martuni should be allocated ?
Real time voting visualization
Road construction
Education
Culture
City events
Еnvironmental protection
Social security
Yard territories improvement
Housing stock maintenance
Armen Avetisyan says 30-40% of the roads, as well as yard territories requiring renovation will be repaired in 2018.

"Road repair works claim most of the money. Asphalting a 300-meter section of a road costs AMD 30 million, but that remained unnoticed," says the mayor. He underlines the taxes have been collected for 118%.
The analysis by Urbanista shows the local budget revenues in 2017 have grown for more than 12% or AMD 41 million against the budget of 2016, and have reached AMD 366 million, including the allocations made by the state as part of budget equalization policies, which have grown for AMD 600 000.

"We get AMD 230 million in equalization subsidies and spend AMD 250 million on salaries. It is not right to subsidize based on population numbers. Some communities lack structures operating under their administrations; yet we have eleven of them, which are kindergartens and culture schools. People in Martuni are consistent in their demands, and I urge council members to work hard and to come up with priorities locals have," says Avetisyan.




The town has registered a 216% growth in economic activities in 2017 as compared to 2016, which is a major success in terms of the budget. "All the areas, which were transferred to some organizations on terms of gratuitous exploitation, are now given on lease. Those are public properties and we do our best to act in line with the laws."

With some AMD 47 million in the budget funding section, the head of the town administration has applied to the government of the republic for a subvention within road reconstruction program.

"AMD 94 million worth program has been approved: we will use AMD 38 million out of the AMD 47 million that we have. We plan to renovate the community streets down to the main streets. I want to underline, we have not chosen the streets that lead to where we live; we have chosen the streets, which are important, and which have been approved by the town council," he says.
Martuni has increased its expenses on environmental protection, particularly, the waste disposal, in the last three years. According to Urbanista's analysis the expenses on waste management in 2017 have grown for AMD 20 million against 2015, which makes AMD 45 million or 13% of the budget in the previous year.

Mayor Avetisyan stresses the importance of human resource policies in rendering waste management services, as well as the compensations, which are the reasons of the increased spending on waste management.


"I don't think AMD 120 000 salary is too much to pay to someone who works from 6 a.m. till late into the night. We have mostly spent on fixing the garbage trucks in previous years. The expenses have been reduced in 2018, because the waste management system that we have developed is able to operate with only the half of the budget it had before," says the mayor.

Martuni tries to adopt a new model of development, engaging non-governmental organizations, citizens, and entrepreneurs in the town development programs. Representatives of the local civil society believe shaping a participatory budgeting system might be the most important achievement to set trust-based relationships between local authorities and citizens.
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