Namie’s high recovery hopes haunted by dwindling coffers, fears of losing vital state dole
[Translated by Japan Times]A robot testing facility, a robotics research center, a base for renewable energy and a memorial park — these are some of the plans the irradiated town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, has in mind for rebuilding after the triple reactor meltdown at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011. But to pursue those plans, the town needs funds — a gigantic amount. Namie is hoping to cover its funding needs with central government grants. But the two sides are still negotiating whether the municipality must shoulder a certain amount. Also, there is no guarantee that the grants will continue beyond fiscal 2020, when the central government-designated reconstruction and revitalization period ends. This has residents worried that, even if the facilities are built, the municipality won’t be able to shoulder the maintenance and personnel costs needed to keep the facilities running. “We are currently negotiating fiercely with the central government,” said Namie’s deputy mayor, Katsumi Miyaguchi, 61. The town of Namie had the largest population in the Futaba district, but its coffers took a major hit after the calamity triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Residential tax revenue, which comprises about 30 to 40 percent of all tax revenues, sank to ¥500 million from about a ¥1 billion before 3/11 after the town decided to waive taxes for those with annual income below ¥5 million. Whether to continue the waiver program is another difficult political issue. The town was also waiving property taxes but plans to resume them when evacuations are lifted in some areas next spring. But land values have plunged since the meltdowns and any property tax revenues are expected to be low. The same goes for corporate tax revenue, which has been hit by 3/11 business suspensions. In short, Namie wouldn’t be able to pay the salaries of its town officials, let alone finance a reconstruction plan, if it weren’t for the central government grants. As the centerpiece of its plan, Namie plans to build a facility adjacent to its town hall that would offer local information and house restaurants that serve up local specialties. But that remains to be seen. “We are making plans despite the uncertainty that the central government’s grants will cover them,” said a town official in charge. “If the funds don’t cover the entire plan, it may need to be revised.” In the mayor’s office, currently in the city of Nihonmatsu, there is a calender showing the number of days that have passed since the disasters hit — over 2,000. But Namie is still far from recovery. “The financial resources we’ve lost due to the disaster are excessive,” said Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba, 68. “We desperately need the central government to continue its support.” Another town executive agreed. “If the government stops providing grants four years later when the reconstruction/revitalization period ends, it means the government has abandoned Namie,” the executive said.