From Fireman to Stari Grad Mayor: “We will Introduce Major Changes to Town Council!”

Total Croatia News

“Stari Grad has a historical advantage, being the oldest town. Last year we celebrated 2.400 years. We have the Stari Grad field under UNESCO protection. Our advantage is diversity,” said Mayor Antonio Škarpa

The surprise of the recent local elections in Stari Grad was independent Antonio Škarpa and his list “Ormoj se.” In the second round he had an identical number of votes as HDZ candidate Mihaela Petrić, which forced a repeat of the second round of elections. It was then that Škarpa won with 17 votes more, as Dalmacija Danas reported on June 30, 2017.

We visited the new Mayor in his Stari Grad on Hvar island. Unlike Hvar Town, at the beginning of July, Stari Grad lives a peaceful, Mediterranean life.

It’s been almost two weeks since the elections. What are your first impressions?

Last Friday we officially took office. The former Mayor handed over the paperwork and documentation of projects he had begun. I feel we need to use this summer to deal with ongoing activities to have the town function normally. Then afterwards we will start some serious work, primarily in building the town budget.

Major changes have come to Stari Grad. For many years HDZ were in power and by the election results, it is evident that the town is divided. Will you work on healing the wounds of that division?

Of course! This is one of the more important goals, to balance this and to reduce tension. We are a small town and it is not good to have such divisions. I feel we need to work on unity.

What will be the first moves?

The first move will be to create a town development strategy. Considering it has no such strategy and everything goes on inertia and ad hoc, I feel we need to make a plan so we know in which direction we will go and where we see ourselves in 10 years. There are many investments coming to town in the following years and if we don’t have a clear vision of development, primarily tourism, we will not fare well.

So you see the future of Stari Grad mostly through tourism?

Through tourism, but I also feel we need to make use of the Stari Grad field as a synergy between agriculture and tourism. I believe today’s utilisation of the field is low and needs active work.

We can see by the example of Hvar Town that the new authorities are turning to a different kind of tourism, so major changes are expected there. Can something be learned from Hvar’s example?

I believe we need to learn and do everything to avoid the situation that is going on in Hvar Town. I believe that type of tourism is profitable in the short-term, but in the long-term it leaves negative consequences for the town.

What is the situation with tourism in your town?

Stari Grad has a historical advantage, being the oldest town. Last year we celebrated 2,400 years. We have the Stari Grad field under UNESCO protection. Our advantage is diversity. This area is very suitable for cyclotourism which is now very popular. Our biggest problem currently is the bankrupt hotel company. The current hotel with two to three stars is not enough for the development of tourism we want to have. We hope that Valamar and PBZ, currently the most serious bidders, will buy the hotel company Helios and this will be good for the town.

It is the end of June, how did the season begin? Do you have data from the tourist board?

I believe there are slightly more guests than last year, considering Easter was later this year so it all connected somehow. The season practically began with Easter. Currently, the town lives off catering establishments, nautical tourism and these all need investments in terms of infrastructure and building sanitation points. My opinion is that this level needs to be raised.

The day before yesterday was the constitutional session. Who holds the majority?

The session took place on June 28. There were no problems in forming the majority. It is important for the town to function again as soon as possible and to work for the benefit of the residents. Our independent list was supported by the local SDP.

Will there be a review of competencies of administration employees?

We will primarily work on the systematisation of work places to increase efficiency. I believe there are things that can be better and I believe they are necessary. I don’t think there are too many employees, but they need proper guidance, so there is work for everyone with a quality systematisation.

All islands are troubled by depopulation. What about Stari Grad, is it dying out?

Things are not great here either. The differences between the number of residents during summer and during winter is quite high. The largest problem is that students and pupils go off to Split or Zagreb due to missing educational institutions on the island. This creates a problem as they don’t return, but stay and work in Zagreb or Split. We hope the incoming investments will become a reality, primarily Four Seasons and their resort in the bay. I feel this will create additional jobs and draw in interested Stari Grad natives to return to their town.

How are the connections with the mainland and other islands?

Connections with other islands are lousy and we all need to work on that issue together. As for mainland connections, we will never be satisfied and I hope that at least the speed of connection to Split will be increased.

In the last months there has been plenty of talk on concessions of maritime property. Does Stari Grad have such issues?

Of course it does. We support the creation of a joint island harbour authority. I feel too much funds are sent to Split, and those funds need to remain on Hvar. I believe we will do a lot regarding this issue, together with Hvar Town. All districts on the island need to work together in terms of waste management too. Stari Grad is in the worst position on that issue, the garbage dump is quite close and it can be seen from the seafront. The garbage mound is simply too large, this ruins the landscape and is not good for us. An alternative is a joint dump on the island. A spatial plan envisions a garbage site towards Selca. We hope to have all the islands cooperating on this issue.

You are also a fireman, former commander. A new commander has been named. Are better days in store for Stari Grad firemen?

I hope so. I know what the problems are. The construction of a firehouse is one of the priorities, but only if the conditions are met and a tender for EU funds open up. It is important to prepare documentation and for everything to be ready if the position and option comes around to build a firehouse.

How was the utilisation of the funds until now and do you have staff to deal with them in the future?

Until now it was non-existent. There is no one dealing with the issue in town. Our goal is to open an office to focus on that. The office would serve residents and the town. One of the largest problems of this town is the development index, where the town belongs in the fourth development group. Out of the maximum 25 points we have 5, a burden when applying.

How do you interpret the success of independent lists at local elections on Hvar island?

People recognised some new currents and they are fed up with political parties where people rarely change. These are people who have been in politics for 20 years, and voters are tired of seeing the same people all over again.

The Island Movement has been active lately. Do you have experience with them?

Of course. I want to use this opportunity to greet them and commend their work. Their idea is excellent and I hope it will come alive in the near future, considering their members have influence on politics or are in power. I am a member of the Movement, as is Riki Novak in Hvar. So I feel it is time to make use of this and for all of the islands to do something together and have their voice be heard. If we went by ourselves, we would be inefficient.

Did the Island Parliament try the same thing?

It did and I hope we will manage to coordinate everything, the Island Parliament and Island Office, currently in creation. I hope we will be able to connect it all as this is our only chance.

A bit about safety during the tourism season. We can see maritime and road traffic accidents taking place along the coast. Is this your experience as well?

The Stari Grad Bay is specific and quite deep. There is no fast boating here. People are careful. Of course, danger always exists and with the increase of nautical tourism that danger rises. Split-Dalmatia County does not invest enough in maritime safety. It is also not defined in terms of firefighting. In Kaštel Gomilica, we have one single ship which is equipped for such emergencies. I feel in the future we need to plan for such a service to be placed on an island.

Can a tourist feel safe in Stari Grad?

I believe so, yes. The emergency room is in Jelsa, but I hope to be able to arrange for it to open in Stari Grad as well.

In the end, Škarpa emphasised he will realise full transparency of the Town Council through the filing and publication of sessions. He said the public will be notified of every detail important for the town.


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