In the cozy corridors of the Paris Exhibition Center, mayors from all over France are discussing this Wednesday in small groups. At the 104th congress of the Association of Mayors of France (AMF), concern dominates. Because the galloping inflation, and in particular the explosion of the costs of energy, have a significant impact on the finances of the municipalities. According a Cevipof survey published on Monday35% of the 3,700 mayors questioned say they are “very concerned” and 42% “concerned” by this increase in costs, which often forces elected officials to make binding choices.
“350% increase in energy expenditure”
“Inflation is a real subject for us”, breathes Jean-Marc Bergia, mayor of Saubens, in Haute-Garonne. “There is general inflation on all products, such as school supplies, but it is above all energy that is hurting us. Between water, gas, electricity, we have this year a 350% increase in energy expenditure, it’s enormous. In addition, for example, there is the increase in the index point for our 10 agents…”, lists the elected official. Last July, the government announced the increase 3.5% of the index point for civil servants.
A new expense that is added to others, also linked to inflation. “Concerning roads, for road maintenance, the price of materials has doubled; on buildings, we are at about more than 30% increase. This is reflected in the bills, ”says Philippe Brochet, mayor of Chamblay, a village of 400 inhabitants in the Jura. But it is the explosion in energy prices that is pointed out by elected officials on Wednesday. “That is our first concern. Our town is 1,100 meters above sea level, we have to warm up! “, ironically Jean-Pierre Santy, mayor of Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, commune of Haute-Loire of 240 heads.
The government certainly announced at the end of October the establishment of an “electricity shock absorber” and a new “safety net” to help the municipalities in the coming months, but without giving too many details on their operation. “Will we have that shield?” And how much will we have? It’s hard to plan because we don’t know anything except that energy prices will continue to rise. In the meantime, we have decided to close the communal hall all winter, ”adds the elected representative of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
“As few public events as possible”
In order not to blow up the budget, town halls are tightening their belts and sometimes using the D system. First solution, therefore lowering the heating, and reducing public lighting, or even total extinction for Marie-Claude Nouvel, in Seignalens . “Our lighting, which is not yet LED, is very energy-intensive. So while waiting for the change, we decided to turn off all the lights at night. It saves us two-thirds on the bill, ”explains the elected representative of this small town of around thirty inhabitants in the Aude.
Philippe Brochet was forced to go further. “In public buildings, we cut the electricity at night, changed the radiators, we are going to review the telephone contracts. We are looking for savings everywhere, but we are coming to the end of the day. At some point, we can no longer. So we are forced to make choices: today, we are pushing back the renovation of the heritage to invest in the school”. Others have taken the lead, such as Gaston Grand, mayor of Gabillou, in the Dordogne. “I do as much work as possible myself, I redid all the ceilings of the town hall by buying only the materials, I saved more than 20,000 euros”, he is satisfied. “But inflation has an impact on the life of the town: we do as few public events as possible, like the festival committee, that sort of thing… Or we move them to this summer to reduce energy costs “.
Property tax, the only lever for municipalities?
On the good news side, Elisabeth Borne announced in October an increase in the global operating grant (DGF) for local authorities in 2023, to 320 million euros, evoking an unprecedented effort for thirteen years. But this gesture, which does not catch up with inflation, is not enough for the elected officials questioned, who still regret the abolition of the housing tax. So, some are now tempted to increase the property tax. “We are going to postpone the purchase of supplies, of a vehicle for example. But the property tax is the only lever we have left, ”says Eric February, mayor of Saint-Mamet-la-Salvetat, in Cantal. “We still use a lot of fuel oil in the countryside. The accounts have exploded, you have to free up money to honor the bills, ”he said, while the price of fuel oil soared by almost 70% in 2022.
“I have never increased taxes since 2014, but there, the revenues are insufficient and we only have the land to act”, abounds Jean-Marc Bergia, mayor of Saubens. “You have to keep running the shop, otherwise it’s less public services, less cleaning in schools…”, he says. Before adding: “Mayor, it’s an exciting job, but you have to have faith”. According an Ifop poll published this Wednesday, some have lost it: more than one in two mayors (55%) would not wish to run again at the end of their mandate in 2026, a record in twenty years.