From Iceland — Capital Area Proposed To Merge Into Single Town

Capital Area Proposed To Merge Into Single Town

Published October 12, 2012

A Kópavogur town councilperson the Grapevine spoke to has submitted a proposal to investigate the idea of merging Kópavogur, Garðabær, Álftanes and Hafnarfjörður into a single town, tentatively named Heiðmörk.

The proposal in question, submitted by Lefitst-Green councilperson Ólafur Þór Gunnarsson, seeks to investigate the logistics and political will behind merging the southern satellite towns of the capital area into a single town. The Grapevine contacted Ólafur to expand on his idea, and why he thinks such a merger would be good for the area.

“These different municipalities are engaged in varying degrees of cooperation with each other already,” he said. “This idea would simply take things a step further.”

Part of the motivation is financial. Pre-crash, Ólafur said, the different municipalities were developing areas within their town limits to be new neighbourhoods, competing with each other over the same private contractors. However, with the crash, many of these areas fell into disuse, as some municipalities simply did not have the capital to develop. A merger, he says, would help alleviate this problem.

“There’s also a democracy angle to this,” Ólafur told us. “Currently, the threshold to get a seat on any of these town councils is around 9 or 10% of the vote. With a merger, the single, larger municipality could have a town council of up to 23 seats, which would bring the threshold down to about 4 or 5%, which is comparable to parliament.”

Not everyone is excited with the merger idea, though – Garðabær mayor Gunnar Einarsson is reportedly strongly opposed to any such merger. At the moment, residents of his town are preparing for a referendum on whether or not to merge with debt-ridden Álftanes. But Ólafur contends that in the long run, a merger will be a boon to everyone involved.

“Garðabær will be getting 2,000 new taxpayers [if the merger occurs],” Ólafur said. “And considerable debt, but also new areas to develop and a relatively young tax base.” The same would apply to a larger merger, he said: areas, which were formerly towns, with an increasingly aging population would be offset by areas where the tax base is still young.

In many ways, he said, Heiðmörk would also serve as a check against the power Reykjavík currently holds over the area. Even the name itself is an invocation of unity.

“The name is a non-issue for me,” Ólafur told us. “But we are all connected to the Heiðmörk area, which lies south and east of here. We all have land there. It’s an area that all these communities love.”

If agreed upon, the merger, he estimates, would take “at least two to five years” to complete, but “you have to start somewhere.”

“What I’m trying to do with this proposal is start the discussion, start the debate.” Ólafur said. “It’s the catalyst to take one step forward.”

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