Two communes in Limburg province are just days away from losing €4 million in Flemish government subsidies because their combined populations remain 15 inhabitants short of the year-end minimum.
Earlier this year the municipalities of Ham and Tessenderlo decided to merge in 2025, which would give them the right to €13 million in subsidy from the Flemish government, providing their combined population was 30,000 or more by the end of this year. If the target was not reached, subsidy would be capped at €9 million.
Now, with only days to go before the deadline, the population remains 15 souls short, despite the best efforts of the new joint administration.
Earlier this month the new council-to-be started a recruitment drive, explained Ham mayor Mar4c Heselmans (CD&V).
“The 30,000th and the 31,000th residents would receive a gift voucher of 500 euros to spend in local shops,” said Heselmans. “I understand that people don't sign up en masse, but we could just give it a try.”
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The council also made an attempt to recruit at several companies where foreign employees work.
“I contacted our social housing companies to accommodate new residents more quickly and even scoured all the real estate agencies in the area to ask which relocations were coming, in the hope that everything could go a little faster,” Heselmans said.
He also followed up on For Rent and For Sale signs on properties to see if the relocation could be speeded up.
“I even offered to carry boxes, until I realised it was getting a bit pathetic," he told Het Laatste Nieuws.
But the efforts were all in vain; the population remains 15 members short, and the chances of a lucrative mass migration now seem hopeless.
“We asked the Flemish government whether they could make an exception because we are so close, but the answer was no. Rules are rules, of course, but it's a shame. With three million extra we could have done a lot of great things," he said.
The recruitment effort came so close, but remains so far from its goal.
“The number of inhabitants fluctuates constantly. Last week we were looking for another 45, then 15 again, but it could well be that we are now at a number in the 20s again. We've known for some time that it would be difficult to reach that goal, so we're resigning ourselves to it. We can hardly force people to come and live here after all," he admitted.