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Mayor Martin Kulmer, Source: St. Veit an der Glan municipality

Martin Kulmer: Mayors have become crisis managers in the times of the pandemic

Martin Kulmer: Mayors have become crisis managers in the times of the pandemic

An interview with the mayor of St.Veit an der Glan, Austria

Mayor Eng. Martin Kulmer worked for 17 years at the international corporation FLEX where he was able to gain experience in various leadership positions. In 2016, Kulmer switched to the childcare facility BÜM in St. Veit as a managing director. 

After the resignation of former mayor Gerhard Mock, Martin Kulmer became acting mayor, and then mayor of the municipality of St. Veit an der Glan as of April 2020. After the local election, Martin Kulmer was affirmed as mayor by almost 70% of the St. Veit population and will hold this position for the next six years.

Mayor Kulmer, could you briefly introduce the municipality of St.Veit an der Glan? What would you say is its most well-known landmark?

St. Veit an der Glan is a district capital in the heart of the federal state of Carinthia and home to 12,300 residents. St. Veit is an important business location. The more than 1,500 companies employ 8,600 people and generate annual revenue of around 800 million euros.

The inner city of St. Veit is one of the most beautiful old towns. The city centre is surrounded by a medieval city wall and is an attraction for visitors from near and far. The city lovingly nurtures the rich cultural heritage stemming from its significant past.

As a newly elected mayor, what is the focus of your administration and what challenges did you face in the beginning?

My predecessor Gerhard Mock was mayor of the municipality of St. Veit for 31 years. Last year I took over his position – simultaneous to the first lockdown. Municipalities face numerous challenges in this crisis - mayors have become crisis managers.

The biggest challenge for the municipality of St. Veit is on one hand the uncertainty of how long the lockdown, with its restrictions, will last. On the other hand, the sword of Damocles that hovers over the economy and businesses is a great challenge. Added to this is the ever-present concern for health.

I have been able to carry out my tasks well from day one. This was also reflected in the election results - more than two thirds of the St. Veit population voted for me at the end of February.

What mechanisms have been put in place to support the local economy?

In order to help business people who have not made any sales or revenue for months, the municipality of St. Veit launched the “Lust auf Innenstadt” (“Desire for Inner City”) initiative last summer. Small, live concerts on the main square, held three times a week were very well received by the population (while keeping a sufficient distance of course). We managed to fill the city on those occasions and the people were very grateful. We would like to repeat this series of events this year.

With a voucher campaign by the municipality, a quarter of a million euros in sales was created for the St. Veit shopkeepers. With these two initiatives, we were able to support businesses quickly and unbureaucratically in these difficult times as well as generate sales. The municipality supported the purchase of the vouchers with a discount of 10 per cent.

You have launched a competition to submit ideas for the design of the city centre of St. Veit. How do you believe this would contribute to the improvement of the cityscape?

From my point of view, it is important to keep a close eye on what the citizens want and for me to be an advocate for solutions. With the ideas competition on an online platform www.ideen4kaernten.at, St. Veit is breaking new ground in public participation. The questions raised in the ideas competition are: What offers and measures are needed to revitalise the city centre, make it fit for the future and at the same time make it even more attractive?

We want to actively involve everyone in the future development and further revitalisation of our beautiful district capital. Through this modern type of citizen participation, lived direct democracy is combined with innovation for the benefit of everyone.

This form of citizen participation was well received by the population from the start of the St. Veit ideas competition: In the first seven days, more than 40 ideas were submitted. And in the weeks that followed, the enthusiasm continued - by the end of the submission deadline, the population had put more than 157 ideas online.

The ideas are as diverse as the competition participants and range from economy, leisure, mobility, cuisine and enjoyment to shopping, sports and fitness as well as art, culture and music. Topics that move the people of St. Veit are also offers and infrastructure for the whole family, young people and the older generation as well as attractive living space and sustainability for maintaining a good quality of life in St. Veit.

A good mix of shopping, food & beverage options and relaxation, as well as numerous cultural and leisure activities, make up an attractive city centre. The best ideas will shortly be awarded and selected projects shall be realised.

You took office in times of global pandemic. How has that affected the work of your administration and what measures did the city take to mitigate the social and economic effects of the pandemic?

The greatest challenges are the immediate and long-term consequences of the corona pandemic for the municipality. For a mayor, in particular, this means: roll up your sleeves and work at full power for the city - and thus for the St. Veit population. I speak regularly - at the moment at a necessary distance - with the people of St. Veit about their wishes, but also about worries and problems.

What are your future plans for the city?

Despite the financial uncertainties, the municipality of St. Veit an der Glan is able to continue investing. St. Veit is one of the few municipalities entering the race with a slight budget surplus. This year there is scope for investments of up to 8 million euros - especially for the renovation of community housing and the continuation of the road construction offensive.

It is important to me that the municipality continues to be the engine of the economy. After the pandemic, it will be all the more important to stimulate the economy. Therefore the industrial park on the city outskirts is being expanded by some hectares.

The Sonnenstadt (Sun-city) St Veit status as a pioneer in renewable energies shall also be expanded. St. Veit now generates more than four megawatts of solar energy, which is equivalent to an area bigger than four football fields. More than 1,500 households are already being supplied with St. Veit solar power.

St. Veit should continue to be a liveable city with affordable housing in the future. In total there are currently 1,400 council flats in St. Veit. Measured in terms of population, the district capital therefore has the highest share of affordable community housing in Austria, after Vienna. The first eco-housing project in St. Veit an der Glan with a combination of a photovoltaic system and a heating pump solution will shortly be handed over to its tenants.

The 27 senior-friendly apartments of 50 square meters each are light on the tenants' wallets in terms of operating costs – as well as on the environment. In terms of ecology and sustainability, St. Veit is breaking completely new ground for the first time in multi-story residential construction.

Strengthening the economy will also be a top priority for me in the future, as well as attractive jobs, leisure activities, digitalisation and measures for the energy and mobility transition. Young and old should feel comfortable in St. Veit.

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