Aging public facilities

The deterioration of many public facilities built by local governments in the 1960s and 1970s is a growing problem. Because most prefectural and municipal governments are in difficult financial straits due to soaring social welfare costs and shrinking populations, they must decide which facilities to repair and which facilities to close or integrate. They need to carefully study the condition and use rate of these facilities, and listen to local residents’ opinions.

In most cases, local governments have different sections managing different facilities such as municipality offices, schools, libraries, public health centers and community centers. Therefore they need to first create a register listing the basic data of individual facilities, such as age, construction costs, floor size, earthquake-resistant strength, use rate and maintenance costs. Only after compiling this data can they tackle the question of what to do with the facilities. By considering the population trend, degree of need, the cost-benefit factor of each facility and residents’ views, local officials should decide whether to reconstruct, repair, abolish or integrate facilities. Privatization could also be an option.

Issuing a report on the conditions of aging public facilities and their maintenance costs will help local governments gain residents’ understanding of their plans for such facilities.

Local governments need to consider the possibility of cooperation with adjacent municipalities concerning the integration of public-facility functions. For example, it may be possible to house various branch offices of a prefectural government or other administrative offices in the building of a public facility that for cost-cutting reasons has been earmarked for closure. Prefectural governments should share relevant data with municipalities to facilitate joint use.

Municipal governments need to consider local residents’ views to determine if specific facilities such as libraries should be closed or integrated. If a library must be shuttered, they should consider moving its books to another facility like a community center so residents can continue to use them.

A big factor in dealing with aging public facilities is available funding, which is likely decreasing in areas where populations are rapidly falling. If local governments in such areas write plans to reconstruct or repair public facilities without paying sufficient attention to budgetary constraints, they will face difficulties later. They need to carefully calculate the size of future tax revenues and expenditures.

To help local governments, the central government should be flexible about a rule that requires local governments to partially return subsidies used to fund the construction of public facilities if their usage changes from the originally approved purpose. Minimizing the amount of subsidies that must be returned would be helpful for local governments that plan to integrate public facilities for cost-savings reasons.