Our plans are ambitious but quite realistic

Dmytro Bykov

Mayor of Horishni Plavni

Dmytro Bykov, Horishni Plavni Mayor was interviewed by Iryna Dudka,
Regional Coordinator of PLEDDG Project in Poltava region

– It’s been slightly more than a year since PLEDDG Project and Horishni Plavni began working together. Apart from PLEDDG Project, the city has been working with some other international technical assistance projects. What objectives have you set and what outcomes do you expect?

– Let me start off by saying that for us the opportunity to work with PLEDDG Project, which is implemented in a number of Ukrainian cities with support from Canadian Government, is the result of a competitive selection, and a chance to receive additional resources for the city’s development. The title of the Project – the Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance – is self-explanatory. Interestingly, the Project’s main focus area coincides with the one defined by members of our local council of the current convocation – to work transparently, maintain an ongoing dialogue with the public, create an enabling business environment for small and medium enterprises.

At the moment, our major focus is elaboration of a city strategic development plan for the period until 2030, diversification of its economy and investment attraction.

It would also be interesting to try to develop new economic sectors in our city. One of the possible projects could be tourism development. I believe it might become quite an upcoming trend given our marvelous water resources, such as the Dnipro and the Psel rivers, which can become a wonderful place for active recreation. Our city has a great potential for historic, cultural, environmental development, water and sport trails as well as sightseeing and folk programs. Horishni Plavni is a unique recreational complex capable of attracting considerable funds to the local budget.

After the project finishes in three years, we will have received quality program products, such as a city development strategy, an SME export promotion program, efficient institutions capable of bringing together local businesses and promoting social entrepreneurship. Of course, we will do our best in order to assure a successful implementation of these projects.

 –  The dialogue between the government, community and business contributes to effective city development. How do you manage to carry on such a dialogue?

– It’s not an easy job to enter into a three-sided dialogue and keep it going. Relevant European experience proves that in order to be successful people have to learn to hear each other and work together. That is why we are trying, first of all, to lay the ground for constructive dialogue so that business, government and general public could get together and discuss pressing issues. We are learning to listen to each other, analyze and consider our steps, take into account public opinion and onlyafterwards take proper decisions.

I can share a success story of building good dialogue and getting feedback from our community and business representatives. This year we have done something unprecedented by trying to reduce the business tax burden – we have cut by half a single tax rate for the 2nd category of taxpayers, real estate tax other than land plot for residential property for physical and legal entities, cut threefold a rent rate for land property allocated for construction purposes for the period of 3 years. By supporting small and medium businesses today we are bound to enjoy competitive advantage in the future.

Also, we would like to establish standards of production and business relationships even for successful small and medium businesses both in domestic and European markets. We want to establish an association of small and medium-sized exporters. The initiative emerged in the course of developing a SME export promotion program. Small business is the core of life-sustaining activity of any European city, and our wish is that our small businesses become a big player in economic growth of Horishni Plavni.

We do hope that, owing to cooperation with PLEDDG Project, we will create a “green corridor” in the city, which will help develop any type of business starting from small companies with a focus on domestic market to big export-oriented enterprises.

– Still, the city’s economic development is determined by big business, isn’t it?

– Our city is specialized in just one economic sector. There are a couple of powerful mining and refining facilities, such as Poltavskyy and Yerystivskyy mining companies. Given the current situation those enterprises replenish the local budget by 65%, which provides for our city development. We are enjoying strong collaborative relationships and dialogue with all stakeholders, boards of directors and workers’ association of those two companies. In other words, we have good common understanding at all levels, but first of all with the Charity Foundation of “Poltava mining and refining facility”, which takes part in implementation of a series of infrastructural, educational and environmental projects. We are grateful to the management of this company, since together we are able to implement a lot of initiatives. For instance, we did insulation works in all (six) schools and nine kindergartens. The lion’s share of funds was provided by the Charity Foundation.

This is your first term as a mayor. Before being elected mayor, you served as the First Deputy Mayor. So, you are not new to local government. As a mayor, do you have any special ambitions?

– We are trying to make use of all possibilities and utilize all resources available in order to implement our ambitious plans regarding city development. The foundation for the plans was laid in previous years. We are trying to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s especially important in spheres such as energy efficiency and energy saving in housing and utilities.

Back in 2014, our city became a party to the Mayors’ Agreement. The city created and implemented an action plan for sustainable energy development. To raise energy efficiency of the housing and utilities infrastructure, two heat pumps were installed in two facilities. One of the city’s boiler stations runs on alternative fuel – wood. Another major achievement is modernization of city lights, that is replacing ordinary electric bulbs with modern energy-efficient LED-bulbs. In all educational institutions, incandescent electric lamps with E-27 socket were replaced with Light LED lamps, and old wooden windows and doors were replaced with energy-efficient plastic ones. Our next initiative is to help associations of home owners raise funds for implementation of energy-efficient projects in their apartment buildings.

– It means you have to engage in dialogue with city residents to convince them to invest their own resources… The city is quite compact: everything is within easy reach. Is that an advantage or disadvantage in your work with city residents?

– I find regular meetings with city residents very useful. They challenge me and ask me awkward questions in a real-time environment, which, in my opinion, is the best way to hear them, detect the tone of their message, their state of mind, hear their opinion, understand their perspective on the issues at hand. We often seek each other’s advice. Nothing can replace real-life communication with the people. One needs to know the truth.

–  Direct real-time meetings is the best way to keep in touch, but we should not forget that we live in times of cutting-edge technologies and innovations in all spheres of life. Maybe you have some “revolutionary” plans regarding improving your executive committee’s work and introduction of modern approaches?

Yes, we try out new approaches; however, one can hardly call them new, since most countries have been using them for decades. Our executive committee is using a specially developed system of electronic document flow, which allows for organizing and computerizing work with e-documents from the moment the document is compiled until it is sent to archive.

Besides, we have developed and installed a module for the official website of the City Council called “Personal Account”. This tool will allow each resident to interact and cooperate with the City Council from a computer at home.

We shouldn’t forget about the younger generation. We are going to introduce one of the most famous and popular educational systems called LEGO in one or two pre-school facilities. Playing with educational LEGO kit allows young learners to develop different skills through cognitive learning such as ability to analyze, compare, improve attention span, develop observation skills, memory, creative and spatial thinking, social communication. For secondary school children, we are going to introduce robotic science as a separate subject.

We invest in young people. We are trying to provide them with all means to ensure their full development as well as balanced and healthy growth. At the premises of youth athletic center there are different sport clubs that allow young people to try different kinds of sports. At the end of 2016, following the decision of the City Council we allocated financial awards to prize winners of Ukrainian and European cups and offered scholarships to the best athletes. Together with the Charity Foundation of “Poltava mining and refining facility” we have built modern stadiums in the territory of two schools and started reconstruction of another one, which will open its doors not only to secondary school students but also disabled people. We are also building cycling infrastructure, in particular cycling roads and provide the best conditions for students of art and music schools. In our secondary schools, we have equipped modern classrooms for students to learn English, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer and robotic science. We organize different thematic festivals for children and young adults.

We take pride in Olympic achievements of our two fellow countrymen, Dmytro Yanchuk and Taras Mishchuk, who won bronze medals in rowing and canoeing in the 2016 Rio-de-Janeiro Olympics. We would like to take humble credit for their achievement, since their success is the result of long-term consolidated efforts of the City Council and the Charity Foundation, which granted substantial support to water sports development in the city. For the first time, ever in the history of Horishni Plavni, our athletes became Olympic prize winners, thus adding to the glory of their city and their country.

In order to have young people stay in the city, we should not only offer them jobs, organize their leisure, but also provide them with affordable housing. There are a couple of successful programs running in our city designed to provide housing to those labor workers in the public sector that are in high demand and in short supply. One of them is a 50/50 contribution, which basically means covering 50% of the housing cost by an employee himself, while the other 50% is granted to them by the City Council after 10 years of successful performance in the public sector. Over the last two years 20 public sector workers became proud owners of their apartments. Under another program, public sector employees are exempt from rent. The program has been successfully running for more than 5 years with more than 30 employees of the health care and educational sphere benefitting from it.

–  It’s a great example of investment into the city’s future. But if you had to single out three most outstanding characteristics of your city today, what would that be?

– The most prominent characteristic of our city and its biggest wealth is its people. The first groundbreakers who arrived here in the 60s of the previous century built our thriving city on the Dnipro river, basically on sand. Not only did they bring along their enthusiasm, zeal and courage, but also their culture and traditions, which gave a unique aura to our city – a very dynamic and life-affirming one. Our young people and their outstanding achievements make the name of Horishni Plavni known to many.

Secondly, Horishni Plavni is a powerful industrial cluster of mining and refining facilities. Thanks to those facilities, our city plays the first fiddle in social and economic development among cities of Poltava region. They offer jobs to people across Poltava region, provide for their welfare through numerous community programs. On the other hand, we have achieved significant progress in the knitwear manufacture. While our position in the mining and refining sector is quite solid, with the knitwear industry we are only beginning to gain ground, and, hopefully, soon we will be able to name ourselves a knitwear capital of Ukraine. It does seem ambitious, but I am positive about it.

Thirdly, Horishni Plavni has a favorable geographic location and rich history.  Archeological expeditions in our city over a couple of years resulted in unique findings dating back to the Bronze Era, Cherniakhov culture, Kyivan Rus and Cossack times. All the findings are exhibited in a local history museum. Within a 30-kilometer radius of Horishni Plavni, there are a few significant sites of ancient history of Ukraine – Dereiv eneolite settlement, Kompaniiv burial ground dating back to 3-4th centuries, a set of burial mounts called “Three Brothers”, burial mounts Tsehelnia, Zozulyna Mohyla, Stogniiv Mohyla, Swedish Mohyla, Mohyla Stovbuvata. The traces of some ancient tribes, such as Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths and early Slavs living there in 1-4th centuries, were found here.

All this perfectly fits into the vision of our modern ever-evolving city, attractive for investors, safe to live in and visit. Our city attracts people with its young spirit, historical past, spectacular views and great opportunities for sports and recreation, job opportunities, decent conditions for young families to raise their children.