There are about twenty of them counting their length, undeterred by the November rain that waters the outer basin of the Bains de Dieppe (Seine-Maritime). The pool stands out against a gradient of gray clouds. Below, a green sea of celadon, barely stirred. In three days, this outdoor pool, usually open all year round, will be closed for six months. A decision of the municipality that thus aims to save 500 thousand euros. A considerable sum in these times of inflation.
“Closing the big pool? I learned that recently,” says Christophe, a 35-year-old Parisian who often vacations on the Normandy coast, who has come to teach his daughter Sophia, 5, to swim. I understand the need. for savings, but it is still the public service that is undermined. Marc, 60, an architect, wonders: “We can make efforts for other expenses, such as illuminated signs for shops or offices.”
Like many of his fellow mayors, Nicolas Langlois (PCF), the city councilor of this city of 30,000 souls, was forced to make unpopular decisions to save money. Municipalities are also strongly encouraged by the energy austerity plan presented on October 6 by the government. The objective set for everyone (companies, local authorities, individuals) is to reduce energy consumption by 10% in two years. In the short term, it’s about avoiding blackouts this winter and reducing our dependence on energy because we will have to do without Russian gas. In the long term, this political will aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Not coercion, but an urgent incentive: local authorities are invited to reduce public lighting, generalize the use of LED lamps, which consume less energy, and reduce heating in their administrative, sports or cultural facilities. In Valenciennes (North), mayor Laurent Degallaix (Horizons) intended to close almost all gymnasiums, stadiums and swimming pools. Faced with the opposition of schools and sports clubs, he had to withdraw. As he decided to stop heating during the winter in these infrastructures.
In Dieppe, the closure of the outdoor pool of Les Bains is accompanied by other measures. Public lighting – which accounts for 40% of the city’s electricity expenditure – was suspended from 11.30pm to 5.30am. Traders are invited to stop lighting their windows from 19:00. The water and air temperature in the other two swimming pools of the municipality has decreased by one degree and that of the gymnasiums by two degrees. The total amount of this savings plan: one million euros.
But that won’t be enough to absorb the staggering increase in the city’s energy costs: €3.3 million more in the 2022 bill for a total municipal budget of nearly €75 million. “It is the equivalent of our help for community life, home services or even our spending on green spaces and cleanliness,” complains Nicolas Langlois. But I refuse to cut corners on these items.”
The mayor prefers to delay some works. Road projects have already been postponed, as well as the thermal renovation of two gymnasiums. Medium-sized cities like Dieppe are also the most affected: “This is where you find the main equipment. The bill is heavier for us than for small towns. As for big cities, they often have more resources.”
“Jump, you’ll see!”
Asked by the mayors, the government wanted to show that it understood their concerns. An “electricity buffer” will allow municipalities from January 1, 2023 to charge the state a part of the bill above a certain rate. Moreover, a “safety net” that already benefits the least of them will be extended.
To find out who to help, “state services will analyze the deterioration of community accounts through a simple criterion known to all elected officials: gross savings *, which must have fallen by 25% in 2023. compared to 2022”, he explains pilgrims Caroline Cayeux, Minister Delegate for Local Authorities. A gas plant? “It may seem complicated, but it is the promise of a hand-stitched system, aimed at the cities that need it most,” she underlines. In total, more than €2.5 billion will be released to enable communities to pay their energy bills. Which, in Dieppe, doesn’t calm Nicolas Langlois. “No one knows who will be helped. It’s like the mayors getting on a plane. The government tells us “jump, there will be a parachute”, we ask them “who will have it?” and he answers us ” jump, you’ll see!” We can’t act like that.”
Energy is not the only source of local budget inflation. Municipalities must also face the increase in food prices. In a column published on November 5 in Le Journal du dimanche, agri-food companies and school hotels denounce the “sacrifices caused by budgetary arbitrations” of municipalities. As in Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf (Seine-Maritime), where mayor Laurent Bonnaterre (Horizons) decided on the spot. Instead of the five elements that make up the usual meal in his school canteens, there are now only four. Children find themselves deprived, depending on the day, of a starter, cheese or dessert. “But we make sure they eat a balanced diet, in sufficient quantity and quality, he warns. It’s also a way to fight against food waste.” An “extremely shocking” measure protests Laurent Zameczkowski, spokesman for Peep, a federation of parents of public education students. “There is no question of bearing the weight of inflation on students. The municipality has a public service mission, it is there to protect its citizens, especially in this period.”
Lack of taxes
This spectacular increase in energy and food bills comes amid a lack of council tax. Already abolished for 80% of families, the housing tax will no longer be, from 2023, a distant memory. Many mayors complain about his disappearance. Due to lack of other income, some of them, especially in big cities, are forced to increase the property tax. “By ending the housing tax, we weaken the public service and the ability to carry out collective projects”, indignant Nicolas Langlois who no longer supports the word “sanity”. “When Emmanuel Macron uses it, it is provocation. Who is he talking to? In any case, not the families in Dieppe who are struggling to keep warm. I prefer to talk about an austerity plan: that, people understand. And we will keep end of year decorations: I want to continue to see children’s eyes shining at Christmas”.
* Surplus of a current operating budget.
-10% energy consumption within two years
This is the target set by the state’s prudential plan for local authorities.