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Hockenheim Mayor Takes Stock Of “I Am Someone Who Wants To Make Decisions”

Image: © Hockenheim-Ring GmbH

Hockenheimring, the Aquadrom and construction projects.

Hockenheim. Today, Thursday, Lord Mayor Marcus Zeitler (44) takes stock of his first three months in office in the town hall at 7 p.m. He had already spoken to RNZ about his start in the racing city and his plans for the next year.
Mr. Zeitler, you have been Lord Mayor of Hockenheim since the beginning of September. Have you already regretted it?
No not at all. I like going to the office and my work is incredibly fun.
After all, you were mayor in the tranquil monastery town of Schönau for twelve years and came to a large district town with much bigger problems.
A broken street in Schönau looks just like a broken street in Hockenheim. And the mother, who can’t get a kindergarten place here, turns just as hollow as a woman from Schönau who can’t get a childcare place. The finances are just as difficult to regulate in Hockenheim as in Schönau. At Hockenheim, the dimensions are different, but the problems are the same.
Your start in the town hall started with a bang: The SPD has severely criticized you for personnel damage and “rude transfers”.
I find the atmosphere in the town hall to be good and collegial. It is quite normal for a new mayor to make personnel changes. Nobody has deteriorated financially or been downgraded. All have been transferred to positions appropriate to their qualifications.

Did you want too much too quickly?

I do not think so. If you change something, it is clear that some people complain and don’t agree. During the election campaign I got a picture and developed ideas. I have now implemented that. I have made no secret of what my nature is like.
What is then your art?
Very direct. Not quietly, but loudly. And I am impatient. You can discuss anything, but at some point you have to put a lid on. I am someone who wants to make decisions. An administration is measured by what it decides and not by what it discusses.
You also said at the time that the town hall was understaffed and that it was “five to twelve”. How many positions are missing in the administration?
I correct myself: it’s even three to twelve. According to our current budget, ten to 15 places are missing. Especially in central areas such as the building law office, building administration, citizen service and registry office, we have to ensure that permanent representation is guaranteed in the event of illness. After all, the local council approved 6.5 new jobs this year.
You made one more important change by making city finances a top priority. Why was that so important to you?
I wanted to be closer to the switch to double housekeeping. I am also a numbers person and see my strengths in this area.

What is the city’s current financial situation like?

Shit would be boasted. We have a huge investment backlog in schools and kindergartens, which ranges from 50 million euros upwards. I don’t even need to mention the street renovation, nor the wastewater management. It is the same with the energetic renovation of the buildings. And in the town hall we have enormous space problems. At the moment we are struggling to be able to present a balanced budget for 2020 – but that will be difficult. With double-entry bookkeeping, we have to generate depreciation for the first time. Actually, you should have switched to this system a year or two ago – that would have made more sense.

Is that why you will be turning the fees and tax screws in the coming year?
We will put all income and expenses to the test and discuss them in the local council. I cannot yet say whether this is also about fees.
How should things go on with the Hockenheimring?
In 2012, we entered into a partnership with Emodrom GmbH, with whom we have a good, reliable partner. The fact that we have financial problems with investments in the ring is nothing new. Since 2003 there has been discussion about how the race track should continue. We are now at a point where we have to make a decision. I would like that to happen over the next year. Discussions are currently ongoing as to what a cooperation could look like.
Who is talking to whom?
Well, the municipal council, the shareholders’ meeting, Hockenheim-Ring GmbH and Emodrom GmbH. We’ll see if we can make the ring financially secure for the future together. On the one hand, jobs and the attractiveness of the ring and the city must be preserved. On the other hand, it is important that we do not sell any land. But we have to think about how we can manage certain investments, and for that we need partners.
Marcus Zeitler would like to see a decision about the future of the Hockenheimring in the coming year. Discussions are currently underway about a cooperation with Emodrom GmbH. Photo: Lenhardt
Do you rule out that the majority of the Hockenheimring will be taken over by a private investor?
I am not excluding anything. We talk through all the options. We shall see what comes of this. The only important thing is: we will definitely not sell any land.
But is not the issue that the Emodrom will acquire a large part of the shares in the ring?
The question is whether we should look for a partner who has financial means. In doing so, we will always focus on the well-being of the entire city. Because the ring is not a municipal duty. That we are emotionally attached to him and see him as a figurehead and advertising medium for our city is not up for discussion. The municipal council and the shareholders’ meeting have to decide what a cooperation with Emodrom GmbH could look like.
Is there anything new in Formula 1?
Except that we won’t have a Formula 1 race at the Hockenheimring next year. We don’t know whether it will return in 2022 or in 2021.
Would you like Formula 1 to come back?
So far, everyone in the world has earned a share in Formula 1 – just not the city of Hockenheim. I will be very happy to go into negotiations if we don’t have to add anything.
The ring made Hockenheim famous and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Nevertheless, the city center is bleeding out. Why is that?
It has absolutely nothing to do with the Hockenheimring. In the 1980s, the mistake was made of outsourcing everything to the green field. And of course people prefer to shop where they can drive up and have free parking spaces. But if we as citizens don’t shop in the city center, we can’t expect outside visitors to keep the shops there going.
With the “Treff 3000” the last food market in the city center closed in the summer. There will probably not be a successor, says the town hall chief. Photo: Lenhardt
In July, the “Treff 3000”, the last food market in the center, closed. How far are you with the negotiations for a successor?
First: the building does not belong to the city. Second, all of the requests we launched have been denied. The reasons are varied: small sales area, no parking spaces, too much competition on the green field. Even the CAP markets refused. I think we can say goodbye to the fact that there will be a large food market there. We’re not going to miss an opportunity to try – but it’s rock hard.
Another problem in Hockenheim is that there is a lack of affordable housing. What are you going to do about it?
We are currently looking into several things. On the one hand, there is internal development. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the free space in the city center is privately owned. We have already asked many owners whether they would be willing to sell. Unfortunately, most of them say no because they want to save the land for their grandchildren. That is why we also keep an eye on external developments. The problem with this: you have to seal surfaces – which not everyone likes – and create compensation areas for it. These in turn cost money, which not everyone likes. You also need suitable building and development agencies. We’re talking to some of them right now. The strict building laws of the state government are also problematic.
Why?
The high energy barriers make building extremely expensive. We should be allowed to build higher. Then you wouldn’t have to seal any areas, you could use existing living space and at the same time renew houses in need of renovation.
Would a new building area be conceivable for Hockenheim?
Yes, if the parish council agrees whether it wants one and tells me clearly which one it wants. I can suggest options, but the local council has to decide. But if you look at Hockenheim: Where else do you want to expand the outside world? You cannot put houses on the motorway and on the other side there is mainly green space. We should rather build high. If you were to add a floor to every house in Hockenheim, the problem would be solved. But you’ll never get through that, that’s an impossibility.
Her predecessor Dieter Gummer was thwarted by the local council in his plans for social housing. Instead of four possible locations, only two were accepted. Do you dare to try this hot iron again?
There is nothing where I don’t dare to go. We need affordable housing, especially for people who work in the low-wage sector. That is why we will continue to pursue this topic and approach the plots that are available. But I’m not going to tear down a playground to have a new house built there.
Subject Aquadrom: The leisure pool recorded a deficit of three million euros in 2018. Would closing the bathroom be an option for you?
One can no longer accept this minus. We will definitely take measures to reduce operating costs. For me, the priority is that we outsource the catering area, which is currently still in the hands of the city. We are already in the process of holding talks. You may also have to think about a closing day to reduce personnel costs. If at some point the deficit is so high that we get into trouble, the following applies: What you can no longer pay, you can no longer maintain. At the moment we’re still lucky enough to be able to make up for it.
In Hockenheim there is not only a shortage of apartments, but also childcare places for small children – currently around 100. How do you plan to do it?
The Postillon Association will set up two new groups with care for children over three years of age. This means that we are safe when it comes to Ü3 care. Now it’s up to the U3, those under three. We also hold talks with various sponsors – both with free and with the postillon. We also look in the existing kindergartens to see whether they can be expanded, converted or renovated. With the new online registration system, triple or quadruple registrations are no longer possible for a child, which has eased the situation somewhat. It’s not going optimally yet, but we’re on the right track. I assume that over the course of the next year we can give anyone who has a legal claim a place.
You have also been living in Hockenheim for a few weeks. How did you find yourself?
Excellent! We were lucky enough to find an apartment straight away. The neighbors are great and welcomed us very friendly. Another funny story comes to mind: my wife recently asked me to bring some sausage with me on the way home. At the meat counter I met a woman who asked me in astonishment: “Are you shopping?” I then replied: “Yes, I have to eat too.” Moving to Hockenheim was extremely important to me. After all, the Schultes belongs in the place. I definitely see my job here in Hockenheim for 16 years and have no plans to switch to national politics, Europe or anywhere else.
Anna Manceron und Alexander Albrecht
© Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung 2019
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