Author: Desislava Georgieva
Published On: 02/02/2024

The public discussion of the draft budget of Varna continued for nearly three hours, an hour more than planned, in the “Plenary” hall of the municipality last night. Instead of 7 p.m., it ended at 8 p.m. However, this was not the most unusual thing.

Let’s start with the good news

For the first time, the local government is discussing a topic with the citizens at a relatively convenient time for them – from 5 p.m. (at the end of working hours for a large part of Varna residents). None of the last two mayors of Varna took into account the commitment of their voters. Upon taking office, Ivan Portnih continued the tradition established by his predecessor, Kiril Yordanov, of organizing public discussions at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon. It then adopted a 1.30pm option. From 2018, it shifted to 11am or 11.30am. Discontent over the awkward time was only heard in 2022, when the debates were already scheduled for 4.30pm.

The second good news – whether because of the favorable weather or because of the new hopes with the new government, the “Plenary” hall in the Municipality was almost full of citizens – something that had never happened in the city.

The mayor, along with his entire team of five deputies, stood and answered people’s questions until the last minute. It did not interrupt the speech of any citizen, nor did it limit the time. It helps, even for the performance of the microphones.

I behaved politely, as a guest of the citizens, but I left last – as a host.

And…enough with the bragging

Perhaps for the first time, a public meeting of this scale in Varna lacks a leader or moderator of the discussion. Let no one give the word and let no one take it away. There should be no time limit for asking questions, for speeches. To replicate without regulation the answers of the mayor and his deputies.

Imagine how in such a situation you can take away the word of the municipal councilor Maria Dimitrova, known for her long and multifaceted, of course, not pointless statements. Well… it happened. “Ms. Atanasova, please…” interrupted the plea from the other microphone for citizens (apparently comparing her eloquence to the new constitutional judge Desislava Atanasova). During that time, three active citizens had already surrounded Dimitrova and urged her to withdraw. All this unfolded before the patient gaze of the mayor and his entire team. Without an ounce of trying to intervene in the argument.

In essence, the new government’s budget comment is, in two words, “nothing new under the sun.” At least if we judge by the area for which the most funding is allocated – education (37% of budget expenditures). And so far this has been the case. Until now, mayors have defined their budgets as “realistic” and there is no other way. And until now they have reported growth in almost all functions important to people, such as social spending, health care, culture, capital program. And it cannot be otherwise. We have inflation, and that means higher wages and more expenses.

Budgeting innovation is lacking in the management approach. Something radical that would put Varna ahead of the rest – not tomorrow, but today. Although Blagomir Kotsev officially announced that this is an “acceleration budget”, it was not entirely clear what would accelerate the development process of Varna.

The mayor announced two personal causes

And these are the complete rehabilitation of Asparuhov Bridge and the industrial zones of Varna. The 2024 budget does neither.

I have an assurance from the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works that we will sign an agreement for major repairs with the Road Infrastructure Agency for over BGN 100 million, said the mayor. But money is still only in the realm of promises. Regarding the industrial zones, the mayor stated that the previous management of the Municipality of Varna failed to apply for the program for the development of the industrial zones, financed under the Recovery Plan. However, three areas suitable for such areas in and near Varna have been discussed with the Minister of Economy. And in the budget for 2024, they have invested only 2 million BGN, intended for infrastructure leading to two of them.

Nothing innovative and radical as a vision for the budget and development of Varna was proposed by the hall. The most eccentric proposals came down to “a retractable roof at the Summer Theatre”, “a beach volleyball stadium” and “free public transport”.

The main problems shared by residents of Varna focused on the lack of normal street infrastructure, especially in urban areas, lack of garbage collection and garbage collection (ibid.). The largest and loudest was the presence of residents from the area of Pchelina. “As soon as this area is talked about several times, the mayor will pay attention to it. But this does not happen with a magic wand”, concluded the Deputy Mayor for Finance Hristo Rfailov.

But the urban environment is no exception: “We have no access to Vira Street – neither on foot nor by bicycle.” At the same time, money has been pledged for “Blyan” Street, the renovation of which was completed last year,” claimed Ivelin Anchev.