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Monday 25th February 2013

javeamigos.com | JAVEA: Jose Chulvi

Foreign residents should play a greater role in the future development of Jávea. Such was the main message from mayor José Chulvi when he engaged a packed lounge at the Hotel Parador on Monday morning in a special reception for the town's ex-pat residents. Several hundred people listened intently as the mayor outlined his vision for the future before answering a number of questions from the floor, including concerns about the municipal debt, road infrastructure and the much-awaited renovation of the Arenal promenade.

Despite the best intentions of the Hotel Parador to provide enough seats for all, it was standing room only for those who arrived late to a much-anticipated event which has ultimately proved to be an enormous success. Back in January, the mayor expanded his open-door policy to meet his Facebook friends, which currently number more than 400, by inviting them to this special encounter and it seems as if everyone of them turned out on a chilly sunny morning in the Arenal.

He was joined by councillor Doris Courcelles, originally from Belgium but resident in Jávea for some 30 years, and George Thomas, a Scot who has lived in the town for 14 years and has been a close friend of Jose Chulvi for eight. He was recently elected president of the town's branch of PSOE, the first time a party has elected a non-Spaniard to the post. Completing the tripartite of English-speaking colleagues was Mayka Contreras, secretary to the mayor who has lived in the town for many years and who is essentially the mayor's English voice on Facebook, despite his pledge to improve his language skills to be able to engage better with the foreign community in the town. In the meantime, all three have been invaluable in helping him to do so as quickly as possible.

Despite his reservations, the mayor showed his excellent communication skills by opening the presentation with a short opening address in English during which he admitted that when he was triumphant in the 2011 elections, he didn't know what he would find. However he knew that he and his carefully-selected team would have to "work, work and work" to turn around the fortunes of Jávea and he showed his particular appreciation to his two deputy mayors, Anton Oscar (Xàbia Democratica) and Juan Ortolá (Ciudadanos por Javea) who both share his vision for the future although neither were present at the gathering. His election slogan was "Ready for Change" and he outlined a number of policies which he and his team has implemented during the first 18 months in charge, such as a more approachable town hall to all the citizens of Jávea, not just those who were born in the town, with the objective of making life easier for everyone. He said that there are almost 90 different nationalities in Jávea which provides the base for creating a better society. More than 26 kilometres of roads had been re-surfaced across the municipality whilst a new low-budget bus station aims to promote a better transport infrastructure. And to further improve the tourism potential of the town, his government has created an attractive new entrance to the town and, after 30 years of waiting, the renovation of the Arenal promenade was well in progress; he reminded everyone that the new name for the walk is to be Paseo de Tenista David Ferrer and proudly acknowledged the tennis player's success in the ATP Copa Claro in Argentina in which the 30-year-old successfully defended his title.

He finished his presentation by declaring a commitment to citizen participation and confirmed that his office is always open to everyone for problems, complaints and suggestions. He admitted that not everything is perfect and that his team would like to develop things at a much faster pace but there are a number of factors which means that this isn't always possible. But he assured the gathering that he was doing all he can to help promote a better quality of life for citizens and holidaymakers alike and he hoped that he could "count on your help".

Chulvi was then joined by George Thomas for a short presentation of the general concept for the future of the town, addressing the need to plan for the future through citizen participation and to meet the challenges of urban management. They said that the town must never cease to evolve. The past cannot be changed so Jávea had to adapt to constant change. The key to success was to promote favourable conditions for the proper development of the town by encouraging more citizen participation, properly managing changes to the environment, addressing weaknesses and building on strengths. As well as the social and territorial aspects, the economy needs to be carefully managed to generate more employment. And they finished the presentation by declaring that it was hoped that foreign residents will play a more active role in Jávea's development.

In the third phase, the team addressed a number of questions that had been received by the mayor's office in the days leading up to the meeting. There was a concern about caravans and camper vans basing themselves in public spaces and the mayor acknowledged that, although they had every right to park for a short duration, they were not permitted to extend that stay and local police had been briefed to prevent them from doing so and direct them to the two official camp sites in the municipality. One lady admitted that she would have never have moved to Jávea if she had not visited in her camper van and added that many towns across Spain and France provided water, electricity points and waste disposal facilities for caravans and camper vans. The first question appeared to divide opinion.

The issue of dog excrement was addressed by Doris Coucelles who said that signs and notices seem to be ignored by many dog owners and quipped that she acknowledged that dogs can't read and assumed that many dog owners are incapable of doing so as well. She said that there was little that can be done unless the local police witness the act and the owner makes no attempt to remove the mess, although she added that it was likely that the owner would notice the authorities and make proper efforts to clean up. It was all a question of education.  Nevertheless, she revealed that there is now a fine of 300 euros for failure to clean up after your dog. And it could be even more. A dog owner suggested that the authorities should fine those walking a dog without the necessary bags to collect the deposits but asked how many bags would be needed to avoid financial punishment.

After acknowledging that in the past there was no long-term planning for sports, the mayor revealed that there were proposals for a new football pitch next to the current one. He also revealed that the library in the port should be ready for opening in April to much applause from the audience as well as a June completion date for the new roundabout  in Camí de Cabanes which is being built at no expense to the town hall and adjacent supermarket complex which will create 40 jobs. he also confirmed that the regional government had pledged 600,000 euros for the renovation of the Central Cinema in the old town which will boast a capacity for 300 people and provide a new centre for cultural activity.

As the floor was opened to questions, one audience member said that there had been an enormous difference to the town and thanked the mayor for his efforts. There was a concern raised about the safety of the new promenade on the Arenal and specifically the potential danger posed by skateboarders, skaters and cyclists using it during the peak season and at weekends. The mayor said that he acknowledged the concerns and said that it was up to the local police to control the situation and find a balance for everyone to enjoy the promenade.

A question about a railway station for Jávea received some derision from the audience but it allowed the mayor to confirm that the proposal for an extension from Gandia to Denia had been abandoned as other priorities were identified, such as health and education. However, with financial resources in Valencia at a premium, grants for both were already being cut and he revealed that ambulance response during the night will cease from this week but said that his government had signed an agreement with the Cruz Roja to provide 24-hour support, a decision that was well-received. He did, however, add that the idea of extending the rail infrastructure in the region has not been forgotten.

The Barclays roundabout is an eyesore, said another member of the audience. So what can be done about it? Jose Chulvi admitted that the situation was a little more complicated than normal and needed to collaboration of four different landowners / developers who would be liable to pay for a new roundabout, much like that which is being created in Camí de Cabanes. Negotiations are ongoing, he added. He also acknowledged that the junction with Carretera La Guardia close to the Saladar supermarket is in desperate need of a roundabout and that negotiations are ongoing with the government in Alicante who would be responsible for building it.

The old chestnut of a municipal swimming pool was raised once again, which attracted more than a wry smile from the team. The mayor had explained that there was an agreement with the Generalitat Valenciana who provide the finance for a pool in return for the town building a new trinquet, a special arena for playing the traditional sport of pilota which was completed in the spring of 2010 after many delays. On completion, the Generalitat reneged on the agreement, although the mayor explained that there is usually a clause at the end of a contract which states that it would be conditional on funds being available, the perfect get-out clause. He had a brief dig at the regional government, suggesting that they had the money for Formula 1 but not for essential services. The mayor also warned that it was not simply a case of building a pool but also providing the budget to maintain it. He reminded everyone that there was an agreement with Benitachell which allows Jávea residents to use the municipal swimming pool in Carretera de Benitachell for the same price at residents of Benitachell and the town hall pays an annual fee of 12,000 euros for such a facility.

Inevitably, the question of municipal debt was brought up and Chulvi stressed that his team was working hard to handle a very difficult situation with municipal finances. Reductions in IBI contributions have resulted in a 'loss' of some eight million euros in taxation income in 2013 so cuts needed to be made to reduce expenses without affecting essential services such as health, education and economic development.  He said that the team has managed to reduce municipal spending by some 5.2 million during 2012 by reducing budgets for Fiestas and expenditure for lighting and electricity whilst suspending vacancies at the town hall. He added that income from taxation was now at 2009 levels.

With reference to IBI, someone praised the new opening hours of the town hall and specifically the OAC and that they were able to pay their tax obligations by monthly instalments but asked why they had to visit the town hall every month to pick up the bill; she asked if it could not be sent out by email instead. The mayor acknowledged that the system was unique, no other municipality could boast having such,  and the system was developed within town hall resources but there are still improvements to be made. They were well aware and would keep everyone informed of developments.

He also explained why the rubbish tax was being increased by some 47% for 2013. As meticulous as ever, he outlined the taxation income which had risen from 15 million euros in 2007 to 25 million euros in 2011, thanks to the high IBI values which allowed the municipal to fund the rubbish collection and disposal to a plant in El Campello without raising the direct basura tax. However, the 8 million euro reduction in 2012 reduced income to 17 millions euros and thus the expense for rubbish had to be balanced with this income, forcing the town hall to raise the cost to the resident for 2013, although he added that the cost was not going to increase in the future. The cost of disposal of the rubbish to El Campello had risen from 40 euros per ton to 56 euros per ton and this had to be taken into account. He said that being a reduction of tax would result in a reduction of services and this simply couldn't happen in a town that largely relies on tourism. The mayor added that the cost was still very low when compared to other municipalities in the region; Denia pays 125 euros, Calpe between 109 and 176 euros depending on the location and in Pego residents pay 141 euros.

One resident rose to her feet and praised the mayor for not accepting a salary before asking: "What's in it for you?" which raised a few laughs. Chulvi confirmed that when he was made a deputy at the Diputación de Alicante and drew a salary, he decided that he could not accept two sources of income, saying that a politician should only have one salary, a statement that attracted thunderous applause and loud cheers from the floor. He said that he was entitled to 1,800 euros a month in attendance fees at the town hall as well as 900 euros as president of AMJASA, the municipal water company. But he was concerned that he could not justify accepting such amounts and that it should be up to the person to address his or her own "personal moral attitude" whether to accept or not. He confirmed that he loves his job and that he could not accept a salary that he didn't need from the town hall when there were 2,000 unemployed people struggling in Jávea. Someone suggested that he was unique amongst his peers, praise that the mayor seemed uncomfortable to accept.

Someone asked how autonomous governments were getting away with what he perceived to be widespread corruption and the mayor admitted that there were "bad people everywhere". Politics is necessary but it may not be good and he felt that justice had to react as appropriate. He said that Jávea was lucky to be able to share responsibility with other political parties who all want to improve the quality of life in the town. He said that a good governing team had been created and there was a good opposition that also cared about the recovery of the town but also kept the government on its toes when necessary. However, what he was trying to build was a society where the people were just as important as the politicians. Advocating full transparency, he wanted to create a Facebook page to communicate with an important chunk of the community, the ex-pat residents and he has done so, albeit with the help of his team.

As the meeting came to a close, someone raised the question of vehicle tax and asked if the municipality should clamp down on foreign-registered cars being driven around the town for many years without making the appropriate contributions. There should be a crackdown, he said, and suggested that the situation was annoying local residents as well as ex-pat residents. The mayor sympathised but made no commitment to cracking down on the problem. After the final questions about disability support for young adults (which the mayor wishes to pursue privately) and concerning language exchange, the meeting was brought to a close to loud applause and a standing ovation from many of those attending.

Mayor Jose Chulvi came across as a genuine, honest person who wanted to ensure that all residents of his town understood his vision for the future. It was a shame that other councillors such as Oscar Anton and Juan Ortola were not present but if this came across to some as a party political rally for PSOE, I honestly don't think that was the intention. Throughout close to two hours of discussion, the mayor continued to stress that everyone needed to work together to help improve the town, and that included the foreign residents of the town. After this, I get the feeling that a lot more people will do so.

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