Wachtberg/Bonn · What did Ashok Sridharan promise five years ago and what could he implement during his term of office? The Lord Mayor of Bonn in the GA -– fact checked.
The local election campaign is slowly getting under way. The political competition observes how suspiciously often Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan visits media-effective dates or, as Corona crisis manager, publishes video addresses to the people of Bonn. But the bonus of office, from which the CDU man profits, is also an obligation. He must be measured by successes. What did he promise when he took office, and what has become of it?
GA analyses this on the basis of interviews that Sridharan gave before and shortly after his election in 2015 (see "With this, today's mayor campaigned before his election five years ago"). Of course, a Lord Mayor is often dependent on council decisions and always on his own experts. But as head of the administration, he also bears a special responsibility for the welfare of the city.
Improving service in the service centre
The problems began with the merging of the citizens' office, the driving licence and admissions office into the service centre (DLZ), the switch to online scheduling and the reduction of service days in the district town halls. Since then, citizens have been complaining about long waiting times for an appointment - at times up to four months. The city leadership, in particular city director Wolfgang Fuchs, is reacting above all with additional jobs. He wanted to cut jobs with the restructuring and save 1.3 million Euro a year. Instead, the number of full-time jobs rose from 106 to 127 - which the city also justified with new tasks. Opening hours were extended by (the) an hour in 2019 and by an hour in June 2020. But the mayor's push to open on Saturdays did not succeed. At the registration office, waiting times for an appointment before the Corona crisis fluctuated between eight and ten weeks.
Conclusion: goal not achieved.
Tackling the renovation backlog of municipal
buildings: Godesberg's Stadthalle is threatened with partial demolition, the concrete on opera facades is crumbling, the future of the Stadthaus is still unclear - the renovation backlog of municipal buildings has grown, even though, according to the press office, the municipal building management of Bonn (SGB) has invested around 452 million Euro in all buildings since 2015. There is no list of priorities, not even an investor project or one in public-private partnership. For the sports facilities, an expert advises to invest around 150 million Euro in the next few years - the city has not yet presented the necessary implementation programme. A further 130 million Euro are planned for the swimming pools. The SGB has increased its staff and, after several years of vacancy, has a new director since November 2019.
Conclusion: Target not achieved
Promote cooperation with the Rhein-Sieg district
The city is dependent on land for industry and commerce that it does not have itself. But the search for cooperation with neighbouring municipalities is slow. While a joint industrial estate with Rheinbach is still in the negotiation phase, there has been a small success elsewhere: Bonn, Alfter and Bornheim are forming a municipal working group to market the Alfter-Nord industrial estate. However, planning sovereignty and tax revenues remain with Alfter.
Conclusion: partial success, but no breakthrough.
Faster approvals for housing construction:
The city does not provide current figures on building permits. A submission from 2017 shows that ten development plans per year (about 850 apartments) had to be worked through with the staff in the planning office. The city refers to 10.75 additional jobs approved by the council at that time to advance the activation of building land and planning. Not all positions have yet been filled. Among council politicians, it is said that the Building Regulations Office approves quite briskly if development is possible according to paragraph 34 of the Building Code, i.e. oriented towards neighbouring buildings. In the case of the former student dormitory on Erzbergerufer, the Lord Mayor pushed through a new hotel building instead of apartments. For this purpose, apartments are to be built in the former polyclinic on Wilhelmstraße. But it is unclear how things will continue there. The procedure for a new residential area in Rosenfeld, Buschdorf, comprising around 300 apartments, is stalled, and the contract has not yet been awarded. The council's decision dates from July 2018, but the council has not heard anything more about it since it decided that the administration should draw up plans for an urban development company to develop the plots itself. With the Bonn building land model, a decision has been made to require investors to provide at least 40 percent low-cost housing for larger new construction projects.
Conclusion: A lot of room for improvement. However, compromises in the council coalition of CDU, Greens and FDP are difficult on this issue.
Answering the public pool question:
Sridharan and the council coalition fought for the Wasserland-Bad in Dottendorf, which was to be built and operated by the municipal utilities. Kurfürstenbad and Frankenbad were to close permanently for this. A referendum prevented the project by a narrow majority. On the basis of a citizen's report, the Lord Mayor presented a concept this year, according to which all district pools were to be renovated or replaced by new buildings. The council now commissioned an in-depth examination of all proposals.
Conclusion: the goal was not achieved, but a solution to the pool issue, which has been debated for decades, may have been found. It is unclear whether the only roughly estimated total cost of 130 million euros will remain.
Make city administration more efficient, introduce controlling:
According to the administration, a department has been installed that, among other tasks, has set up a reporting system for large construction projects with an employee and the corresponding specialist offices. The reports can be read on the Internet at opendata.bonn.de. In addition, an office for the development and establishment of a controlling system for OGS support was set up in the 2017/2018 school office. The SGB has been given two controlling positions, with two more to be added this week. The project reports give a good overview of the cost and time schedule. Reports on other topics are not to be found at opendata, except for one from the Office of Social Affairs from 2015.
Conclusion: Target partially achieved. The administration is still a long way from comprehensive, central controlling.
Reduce city spending:
Despite the good economic situation of the past few years, Bonn's debts rose to 1.87 billion Euro (March 2020); the corona crisis will burden the coffers with double-digit million sums. There were no savings in the millions. In 2018, the city’s treasurer failed in the face of resistance from the council in its attempts to cut the subsidy for the Beethoven Festival and introduce a fee for the use of sports facilities. Subsidies for the Euro Theater Central and the Small Theater were cancelled. At the same time, the city's personnel costs continue to rise: from 313 million Euro in 2018 to 339 million Euro last year. For 2020, the treasurer expects 378 million Euro.
Conclusion: Target not achieved.
Avoid tax increases:
The last property tax increase took effect on January 1, 2015, and the trade tax rate has been stable since 2013. Although the city expected high deficits for the years 2017 to 2019 (in fact, it achieved surprising surpluses). However, Sridharan and Margarete Heidler did not propose tax increases to the council.
Conclusion: Target achieved.
Improve cooperation with the Council:
Effective communication is difficult to measure. Sridharan says he visits the CDU faction and representatives of the Jamaica coalition weekly, and there are fortnightly meetings with the leaders of the FDP and SPD factions. He had also visited other factions on invitation. However, not only politicians of the opposition, but also those of the coalition criticise that answers to questions are not quick enough. Recently, when it came to the continuation of the lead-city measures, the administration presented its proposals as an emergency motion only a few hours before the meeting of the Transport Committee.
Conclusion: there is no sign of a significant improvement.
Improve public transport and the cycling infrastructure:
Two steps forward, one step back: This is how the struggle for traffic solutions in the city centre could be described from the perspective of the advocates of local transport and better cycle paths. Following the Council's decision to cut the city ring road for the Wesselstrasse thoroughfare, a majority was achieved in June with a vote of the Lord Mayor at the request of the CDU to reopen the ring road. After all, the cycle lane Am Hof and in Rathausgasse should remain, as well as the public transport lane for buses and cyclists in Kaiserstraße out of town. The council coalition has decided to continue the federally funded Lead City project with partly municipal money for at least one year. Starting in 2023, 22 new light rail vehicles are to run every five minutes between Siegburg and Bonn. Sridharan also reclaims that resolutions on cycle fast routes are a success. His resignation from the supervisory board of the public utilities bus and train, which he justified with lack of time, was met with sharp criticism from the opposition.
Conclusion: goal partially achieved.
Renovation of the Beethovenhalle at a reasonable cost:
Sridharan wanted to renovate only the bare essentials, but was unable to gain acceptance within his own CDU council faction. In 2015, the Jamaica coalition decided to carry out a comprehensive core refurbishment with a technical annex and a studio located lower down - despite the narrow time window until the Beethoven anniversary. Today it is clear that the planners did not go far enough, the soil and building fabric were not sufficiently examined, and the municipal building management was not up to the task of its owner, according to the Auditing Office. The result: the refurbishment will probably take until 2024, with costs rising from 61.5 to 166 million euros at worst, according to the city. According to Sridharan, the course for the refurbishment was set long before he took office.
Conclusion: Target clearly missed.
Original text: Lisa Inhoffen, Andreas Baumann, Philipp Königs and Ruediger Franz, Translation: Mareike Graepel