Responsibilities of local governments

There are 79 local governments in Estonia divided into 15 cities and 64 parishes. Local governments decide and organise local issues independently. Irrespective of their size, local governments perform similar functions and offer the same services to their citizens.

The main tasks of local authorities are stated in the Local Government Organisation Act. In addition to that, tasks are also regulated by different sectoral acts and regulations.

Local governments organise social assistance and services, welfare services for the elderly, youth work, housing and utilities, water supply and sewage, provision of public services and amenities, waste management, spatial planning, public transport within the town, city or municipality and maintenance of town or city streets and municipality roads.

Local governments also organise the maintenance of local government owned preschool child care institutions, basic schools, secondary schools and hobby schools, libraries, community centres, museums, sports facilities, shelters and care homes, health care institutions and other local institutions. Local governments of county centres additionally perform some population procedures such as contracting marriages.

Education. Local authorities are responsible for the maintenance of preschools, primary and basic schools, hobby schools and partially secondary schools, covering their operating expenses (renovation of buildings, acquisition of supplies and textbooks, etc.). Primary and basic schools, and in many cases also secondary schools, are institutions administered by local governments. The salaries of municipal school teachers are paid from the local government budget using funds allocated from the state budget for supporting the performance of these functions (educational support). When necessary, local authorities also organise school transport for students. State upper secondary schools also operate in addition to municipal schools. 

Social welfare. Local authorities are responsible for the organisation of social assistance and welfare services for the elderly, the disabled and other people in need of help (incl. assisted living) and the maintenance of general care homes (nursing homes), shelters and other social welfare institutions. Pursuant to the Social Welfare Act, a local government is required to provide the basic social services (e.g. domestic service, general care service, alternative care service).

In addition local authorities assign and pay supplementary social benefits and organise social services according to the needs of the citizens. 

Utilities and infrastructure maintenance. Local authorities are responsible for the organisation of housing and utilities and the provision of the relevant services (water, heating, sewerage, etc.). The area of responsibility of a local authority includes the maintenance of local roads and streets. Many towns and rural municipalities have established companies that provide utility services. The local authority is responsible for the functioning of waste management in its territory.

Culture and sports. The functions of local authorities include the organisation of culture, sports and youth work. Local authorities are responsible for the maintenance of libraries, cultural centres, museums, sports facilities and other institutions in the field if they are in the ownership of the local authority. Most local cultural institutions are in municipal ownership. Local authorities exercise supervision over the monuments within their territory and are responsible for compliance with heritage conservation requirements. In the fields of culture, youth work and sports, the local government supports active local cultural and sporting activities and the pursuit of hobbies, which includes supporting events that are organised.

The functions performed jointly by local authorities in the field of culture are the development of the cultural policies of counties, the organisation of activities related to the nationwide song and dance celebrations at the county level and the preservation of the continuity of county and local identity.

Planning and construction. Pursuant to the Planning Act and the Building Code, local authorities are required to prepare comprehensive plans, detailed spatial plans and local government-designated spatial plans in their territories, to issue design specifications, building permits and use and occupancy permits and to exercise state construction supervision.

One of the joint functions of local governments since 2018 has been the organisation of public transport (bus and ferry traffic) in counties in cooperation with the national Road Administration via the regional transport centres formed for this purpose. As an exception, local public transport in Saaremaa and Hiiumaa is organised by the local authorities itself.

In the fields of public health and safety, functions performed jointly are the designing of a living environment that supports citizens’ health, well-being and safety and carrying out activities that support the population’s health. In providing vital services, local governments with more than 10,000 citizens have to ensure the continuousness of the provision of district heating, navigability of local roads, supply of water and sewerage.

Read more about the organisation of local governments on the Ministry of Finance web page (https://www.rahandusministeerium.ee/en/local-governments-and-administrative-territorial-reform) or from an introductory booklet compiled by the ministry (https://omavalitsus.fin.ee/static/sites/5/2020/02/Eesti-KOV_trykis-inglise-keel_web_2019.pdf).