The residents of Yubari city in Hokkaido are shivering not only from biting cold but also from the city’s harsh financial reconstruction plan under the supervision of the internal affairs ministry. The former coal-mining center, now with a population of only about 13,000, must pay back 36 billion yen in accumulated debts.

The reconstruction plan announced by the city government is aimed at completing the debt payments in about 20 years. By the start of fiscal 2009, the number of city employees are to be halved from the current 270; the salaries of those remaining will be slashed by about 30 percent. To prod workers to leave city employment sooner rather than later, retirement allowances will be lowered to about a quarter of the original level by 2010.

Seven primary schools and four junior high schools will be integrated into one each. Under one of four scenarios presented by the city, the tax burden on a four-member family with an annual income of 4 million yen will go up by about 166,000 yen yearly. Fees for using city facilities will rise by 50 percent. Bus fares and city water and sewerage fees will also increase. Art museums and libraries may be closed. The frequency of removing snow from streets will be reduced.

Residents are upset not only with their increased financial burden and the decreasing quality of services but also with the fact that the city government decided on the financial reconstruction plan without discussing details with them first.

The city government should realize that it needs the cooperation of its residents in order to make the financial reconstruction plan work. It also needs to devise aggressive plans to revitalize the city’s economy as well as citizens’ lives. The Hokkaido Prefectural Government could do a lot in this regard.

People at least 65 years old account for 39.7 percent of Yubari’s population — making it one of the “oldest” municipalities in the nation. This feature alone puts pressure on the city’s finances. The central, prefectural and city governments must take care so that successful financial reconstruction does not lead to the collapse of the community itself.

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