By: Lea Kalc Furlanič
In the past year, the Municipality of Bloke has carried out several extremely important investments in a short time, including providing utility-equipped land for a new senior citizens’ home, a shopping centre, and residential construction from the budget. The mayor of the municipality, Jože Doles, emphasises that these are strategically important projects that will bring significant development to the municipality and the Bloke Plateau.
Mr. Doles, we are talking with you today about the development of your municipality. What plans have you managed to realise in the past year?
The biggest endeavour is undoubtedly providing the utility-equipped land and preparing the project documentation for the senior citizens’ home right in the centre of Nova Vas. We submitted the documentation for obtaining a building permit to the administrative unit just last week. We have created the preliminary design for a senior citizens’ home with 60 beds, and in cooperation with the Retirement Home Grosuplje, we applied for a tender in the Ministry of Solidarity’s future funds, which will draw money from the Recovery and Resilience Fund post-COVID-19. The investment has changed from the original announcement to the release of the competition by the Ministry of Solidarity’s future funds. Initially, the plan was to build senior citizens’ homes with 24 beds, but in the tender, the maximum size of newly constructed homes was increased to 60 beds.
What did your municipality have to change for this investment due to the expanded state tender? Did you have a lot of additional work and costs?
We were pleased to accept the new terms of the tender for a larger home and quickly found a new location due to the expanded state competition. We purchased abandoned barns from Perutnina Pivka located in the centre of Nova Vas, not far from the school and the municipality, situated on a 5500-square-meter piece of land. We demolished these two buildings and provided municipal infrastructure to the land. Besides water and sewage connections, we also arranged a new access road. The electric company will install a new transformer station for the purpose of the new buildings on this part of the settlement. We also commissioned a new project for a building permit. All of this was accomplished in a very short time. The Municipality of Bloke incurred approximately €200,000 in additional costs to realise these activities. We financed all of this from the regular funds of the municipal budget without additional borrowing.
How much will the new retirement home cost, what else do you need to do, and most importantly, what benefit will the municipality derive from this home, considering that it will belong to the state and be managed by the public Home for the Elderly Grosuplje according to the rules?
It is true, the conditions of the tender require that once the municipality provides suitable land and documentation, the ownership is transferred to the Republic of Slovenia free of charge, while the implementation and management of the investment are carried out by a public institution, as agreed. In our case, this institution is the Home for the Elderly Grosuplje, with which we cooperate very successfully and commendably. We obtained €7.3 million in non-refundable funds for the construction of the home through the tender. However, I must point out that the costs mentioned so far have been covered by the municipality from its own budget, not from this sum. Additionally, we will donate the land to the state free of charge, but if we were to sell it at market value, we could make a profit. However, this investment should be viewed from a strategic and long-term perspective, as the retirement home is of great importance for the Bloke municipality. Firstly, because our elderly residents will receive institutional care in their hometown. Additionally, the home will require at least 30 new jobs in our municipality, where job opportunities are limited. Furthermore, as it is likely that residents from other municipalities will live in it, there will be an increase in the frequency of visitors to Bloke. Lastly, the new building in the centre with its well-kept surroundings will enhance the urban centre of Nova Vas, where all the essential services are already present: the municipality, post office, school, kindergarten, sports facilities, and soon, a new shopping centre and residential neighbourhood will also be developed. So, believe me, the establishment of this retirement home is indeed a significant interest for our local community.
How did you manage to persuade the management of the Home for the Elderly Grosuplje to accept the offer to manage the facility in Bloke?
The management of the Grosuplje home is very capable and ambitious. They competed for three projects in the Ministry of Solidarity’s future funds competition: apart from the senior citizens’ home in Bloke, they applied for two more homes in the municipalities of Sodražica and Ivančna Gorica. They are planning to expand their activities to three municipalities. They also have a branch home in Loški Potok. In our region, they found suitable locations for such activities. The three homes, with a combined total of about 150 beds, will be located relatively close to each other, which will allow for more efficient logistics. The unit in our municipality will become central, with a central kitchen, laundry facilities, and administration, among other services. With this method of operation, it will undoubtedly be economically justified. That is why they saw a significant advantage in establishing two more units in our area.
You mentioned earlier that you are preparing a space for a new shopping centre in the centre of Nova Vas
Yes, that is correct. In our municipality, we still face a shortage of modern, diverse, and quality retail offerings. I believe we will adequately address this issue. We are working on a larger project in collaboration with a private investor, the Agricultural Cooperative Velike Lašče, which is already present on our plateau. We have already provided the necessary infrastructure for the construction of a new retail and residential centre on the land in the centre of Nova Vas, where the former Agrocentre, owned by the Agricultural Cooperative Cerknica, operated in the past. This property faced financial difficulties and later went bankrupt. We have already equipped it with the necessary utilities and prepared everything for the construction of a new retail and residential centre. The project documentation for a building with a footprint of 700 square meters is currently in preparation. The ground floor will be dedicated to organising the retail offering, while the upper floor and attic will host 16 new apartments funded by the Municipality of Bloke. At this point, if you ask whether these will be market-rate or non-profit apartments, I must inform you that we have not finalised that decision yet. However, we are considering two options: given the proximity of the retirement home, if there is interest, some of the apartments could be designated for assisted living, while others might be allocated for newly employed individuals. We anticipate that we will not be able to source all the necessary personnel for the new retirement home solely from our municipality; hence, we will need to attract suitable candidates from elsewhere. In this way, the projects of the retirement home and the shopping centre are organically connected.
In addition to the new senior citizens’ home and the new shopping centre, a new residential neighbourhood will also complement the centre of Nova Vas, will it not?
Yes, that is right. In the northern part of the Nova Vas settlement, above the soccer field, we have already prepared the area for the construction of new individual residential houses. We have divided and equipped the land for development. In this phase, we have already put ten new building plots on the market, each approximately 800 square meters in size. Five of these plots have already been sold, while the remaining five are waiting for potential buyers. The selling prices are reasonable, and the land is situated in a very tranquil, green, and sunny location. We also plan to create more building plots in this area in the future. I expect that over the next ten years, we might be able to build around 50 to 60 new residential houses in this part of Nova Vas. There are also available plots for vacation homes near Lake Bloke. Despite our somewhat remote location from major cities, living in our municipality is enjoyable. Our municipality is fully equipped with utilities, and we can boast a beautiful, untouched natural environment. We have low unemployment rates, a high economic index, and a thriving wood and other industries, as well as year-round tourism.
It sounds like you have had a utility company since the establishment of the municipality…
That is correct. It was a necessity. The municipality is geographically large, measuring 75 square kilometres, but the population is sparse, even though we have 45 settlements. Naturally, the costs of constructing and maintaining municipal infrastructure – from water supply and sewage to roads, etc. – are high. If we wanted to bring this to a certain level, we first had to reduce the costs. We did this by having the municipality take over the management and maintenance of all infrastructure by establishing a municipal utility company. This leaves us with more money for investments. If we had not done this, I do not know how we would have continued developing the municipality. In the utility company, we have only three employees, and when we need larger services, we call on subcontractors. We are careful with costs, and in case of higher costs, we do not burden the users as much as municipal companies would. All settlements are covered by water supply, and we also have our own waste collection centre.
Mr. Doles, you have been the mayor for seven terms. What motivates you to run for mayor in every election?
I am drawn to new challenges and new projects. I would like to do more good for our Bloke Plateau because I know I can, I am capable, I have a vision, and I see that it is succeeding. I have several successfully completed projects behind me, and I have just as many plans for the future. That is what motivates me. Of course, it is also important that the people support me. In the first rounds of elections, I receive a high level of support, at least 70 percent. I believe this is a good indicator, a significant signal that the residents trust me. Other candidates have also tried, and they will have more opportunities in the future. I feel it as an obligation to see through the projects we have set for ourselves.
Let’s focus a bit more on tourism. You are known for Lake Bloke. Some have even replaced sea swimming with swimming in Lake Bloke due to the pleasant climate. What does this tourism gem bring to your municipality?
First and foremost, it brings many more visitors, many of whom also stay overnight. This year, the number of overnight stays has significantly increased, with over 3,000 in July alone. For comparison: in the past, we had 500 to 700 overnight stays annually in Bloke. After revitalising, enlarging, deepening, equipping, and landscaping Lake Bloke, which was built in the 1960s and had been deteriorating for 30 years, we now see a growing number of visitors. Consequently, the tourist offerings around the lake have flourished, and vacation properties in the area have become more expensive, indicating that Lake Bloke is becoming an increasingly powerful tourist attraction. This pleases us. We must not forget that we also have winter tourism since we have quality cross-country skiing trails. With a developed agriculture sector, we enable the growth of ecological tourist farms, a variety of produce, and supplying inns with local food. Bloke offers great opportunities for activities such as cycling, hiking, horseback riding, and more. Opportunities abound; we are a true tourist destination.