A million euros for a water treatment plant that can’t treat

Making waste a way of life: bankrupt Galician town council also employs around 100 people

The town council of Pereiro de Aguiar (population 6,000) in Galicia, with a five-million-euro annual budget, cannot make ends. The mayor, Eliseo Fernández -- who has held his post for 25 years, in a region where an ironclad political boss culture prevails -- has begun to refuse certain services to the inhabitants.

The mayor, aligned with the controversial local political boss José Luis Baltar of the Popular Party (PP), goes on collecting the salary he assigned himself -- 50,000 euros annually, plus other payments he receives for attending council meetings and official events of the Deputation (a provincial-level authority). And last year, without touching his salary, he accepted the town's declaration of bankruptcy.

Fernández presented a cost-cutting adjustment plan, in view of pending debts of almost a million euros. To cope with the economic situation, he has suppressed almost all the municipal services in the town. Other services, on which considerable sums were spent, have never worked.

For example, the town's sewage treatment plant, near the municipality's boundary with the city of Ourense, was finished in 2010. It cost some five million euros (partly from state aid funds). But it has never become functional. Once built, the mayor noticed it had no outlet.

Green protests

The town has since been stuck with an annual payment of 240,000 euros to connect its sewage to the treatment plant of the neighboring town San Cibrao das Viñas, also long governed by the PP, and repeatedly sanctioned by the provincial water authority for dumping untreated sewage in the river. The mayor of Pereiro, meanwhile, had conciliatory words for ecologist groups who have complained of untreated sewage dumping in Pereiro itself.

He asserts that "nothing is being dumped in any river," and that the waste generated by the town's industrial park is subject to "monitoring" by the provincial authorities, and is in any case connected to the treatment plant of San Cibrao. This is not the only hole through which the town budget drains. Generous hiring practices mean that this small municipal government employs about a hundred people (according to the Socialist opposition's data), whose wages consume some 75 percent of the budget.

The present president of the Deputation, José Manuel Baltar Blanco (son of the aforementioned boss) appointed Fernández head of personnel for the provincial institution. The mayor of Pereiro, who has enjoyed impregnable majorities since 1987, has managed to annul even the token opposition in his town: candidates previously representing other parties have stayed on as municipal councilors, but in representation of the PP. Such is the power of "Baltarism" in this part of Galicia.

Fernández -- famous for having used a shotgun to intimidate a picket of strikers outside his fireplace company in the 1980s -- is a veteran of the Baltar clique. He showed up to lend moral support to Baltar Sr., at his recent court appearance in connection with illegal hiring practices. With Baltarism now before a court, the mayor of Pereiro retains his numerous municipal staff, while (with the aid of a million-euro state subsidy) he copes with the crisis as best he can.

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