On December 25, 2010 the people of Taichung City and Taichung County received an administrative Christmas present--a new unified city and county government. This newly minted Taichung City Government will reign over a territory stretching from the Taiwan Strait to over the Central Mountain Range into eastern Taiwan and bordering Ilan County in the north-east of the country and Hualian County to the east. It will encompass the skyscrapers of downtown Taichung and tiny aboriginal villages in the mountains.
This new mega-city will see a huge increase in population. Using figures from late 2010, the approximate population will be 2,646,500 people (Taichung City approximately 1,081,500 people added with Taichung County, approximately 1,565,000 people). The number of registered households will reach approximately 851,500 (Taichung city: 385,000 added with Taichung County: 466,500).
The merger will allow the city to tap more funds from the central government as well as draw from a much larger local tax base. Over time, it will allow for potentially significant cost savings by reducing administrative redundancies and streamlining infrastructural development.
Possibly even more important is how this positions Taichung locally and internationally. The new city government will have many more abilities and opportunities to advance Taichung's development as the hub of central Taiwan both within Taiwan and throughout the region.
So how will this impact us as foreigners? Initially, the impact is likely to be small. You'll be using the same facilities as before, working with the same government offices run mostly by the same people. If you live in what was Taichung County your address will change. The biggest immediate impact is on all the government employees who are working hard to ready their departments for all the changes to come.
Over the next few years, however, big changes are coming. What all these changes will be, what form they will take and where they will lead us still isn't clear--but some of the coming changes are starting to take form already. Over the course of 2011 the city council and administration will be working on setting city-wide standards and laws and implementing the merger. In this article we hope to help give you some idea of what's coming, though it may take some time for relevant laws and regulations to be passed and implemented. .
Why Did We Merge?
Technically what is happening is that the city and county are being both merged and upgraded to what is called a "Special Municipality Directly under the Jurisdiction of the Central Government". Legally, this grants more powers and more money to the city and elevates it above the surrounding cities and counties.
For Taichungers, it's about time! Taipei was raised to Special Municipality status as far back as 1967, followed by Kaohsiung in 1979. This meant that, as far as the central government was concerned, those cities were priorities while Taichung was left to languish as a second-tier city. Tons of money was poured into the development of Taipei and Kaohsiung, leaving our city’s citizens feeling cheated--in spite of being at the core of a central Taiwanese population of well over three million that worked, shopped and played in the city.
Some years back, when Taichung City's population (within the city limits) passed one million, the expectation is that this would happen soon--but it wasn't to be. Wrangling on the national level held back progress for agonizing years. Finally, however, the national Legislative Yuan agreed to the upgrade, along with Tainan city and county, Kaohsiung city and county and Taipei County (now to be renamed Xinbei City, or "New Taipei").
So we know why the city was upgraded to a special municipality, but why the merger with Taichung County? Isn't it odd that the city will now include a lot of farms, aboriginal villages and mountain parks? And it's huge!
True, in some ways it is unusual. However, think of it this way: the vast majority of the population, economy and infrastructure of Taichung county was directly connected to Taichung city. Before, the planning for a project could be run in part by, say, Taiping City, Taichung County and Taichung City. That's messy, confusing and redundant. Everything from taxes to sewage systems had to go through torturous jurisdictional processes. Now, things can be done cheaper (only one department instead of many), faster and with a unified vision.
The many advantages of consolidation do not stop at the sharing of resources, the cooperative planning of overall public infrastructure development, or the integration of the sea, land and air transportation systems. At the same time, an increase in the government's combined income through increases in the "distribution of the centrally allocated tax revenue and grants" and tax income from investment, tourism, consumption and land development will further help to provide more substantial funding for public infrastructure development. The total net tax income was NT$15.9 billion for Taichung City in 2008 and NT$13.7 billion for Taichung County. Together, this would total NT$29.6 billion, a vast fund that will go towards providing better public infrastructure for people in the region.
So What Happens to all the Cities and Towns in Taichung County
Taichung County was broken up into 21 administrative areas. Some, like Fengyuan, Dali and Taiping Cities occupied the entire area. In others, like Heping and Dadu had several townships or villages.
All 21 of those areas will be incorporated as Taichung City districts, joining the eight districts Taichung City already had. For a full list list click HERE
In the short term most city, township and village government offices will remain as they are with simply a change of name. However, over time the government may start to rationalize this large number of offices--but if, when or how remain uncertain until the relevant laws are passed. Expect this to be a long-term process.
A further outstanding question is that the current Local Government Act stipulates that mountain Aboriginal township heads must be Aborigines--but the merger complicates this. Most likely this will be addressed by the central government.
What about road names? Will my address change?
For now, residents of the old Taichung City will see no changes of address. Residents of the previous Taichung County will need to change, for example, "Fengyuan City, Taichung County" to "Fengyuan District, Taichung City".
Longer term, however, bigger changes may be on the way. There are many roads that run through what were different cities, townships and villages--changing their name in every locale. Obviously this is an odd situation for a unified city.
Worse, most of these locales all used many names in common--in fact there are a total of 650 streets and roads across what was the city and county that are the same. For example, there are 16 ‘ZhongShan Roads’ (named after Dr. Sun Yat-sen) and 12 ‘ZhongZheng Roads’ (named after Chiang Kai-shek). Other common road names include ones named after the ‘Three Principles of the People’ (SanMin Road), the specific three principles (MinSheng, MinZhu and MinQuan) and other historical references calling for national strength or reclamation of mainland China.
In the short term, this will be solved by noting the district with each road name. So, for example, ‘Fengyuan District ZhongShan Road’, ‘Shalu ZhongShan Road’ and ‘Houli ZhongShan Road’. Longer term there will be some rationalization of the road naming system, but it will take time for the government to implement it.
How does this affect paying bills and government services?
In the short-term, probably not much more than that the address on the bills sent to you may change. For the next few months, most bill-collecting offices of both public and private entities will change no more than they normally would.
Additionally, most people pay bills via convenience stores or ATM transfers--so it is much less of an issue than it would have been a decade ago.
It is uncertain at this point what laws the city council will pass regarding government offices, and it is also unclear how those laws, if and/or when they are passed, will be implemented.
Another uncertainty is how corporations and national government offices will be impacted. It seems likely that some entities that organized their services based on geographical regions may ponder changes, but organizations not organized that way will likely not be affected.
One area to keep a close eye on if you are a property or business owner is taxes. When it comes to tax-related areas such as standard housing unit prices, special structure prices, land prices, land values, deductions and methods of verifying deduction standards, the two regions have completely different laws and regulations. For example, Taichung City and County citizens could both own a steel-built structure on the same road and be taxed differently because of regulation differences for housing taxes and standard housing unit prices between the two jurisdictions; the city calculated on the basis of the type of steel used while the county used the structure's area. In areas such as "Regulations for Reduction in Land, Housing and Deed Tax for Private Institutions Participating in Public Infrastructure Projects", Taichung City allowed a deed tax deduction of 30% when acquiring the real estate rights, while Taichung County allowed a 50% deduction.
Will this impact on tourism or leisure activities?
In the short run the impact will likely be mostly psychological, though some changes are already under way. In theory, many leisure activities and hotspots that were out of town are now in town. How much impact that will have is uncertain, and no doubt few of us are likely to think of Xueshan Mountain or Guguan as suddenly ‘in town’--even though that is now technically the case.
Some changes are already underway. For example, in the summer of 2010 the Taichung City Free Bus Tours program was expanded to include areas still at that point in Taichung County to begin the process of getting people used to the idea of the merger (see the article
It is likely that bus tours, bike paths and similar leisure projects will now start to cross the old boundries.
The huge ‘Gateway City’ project is also partly geared towards entertainment and leisure (among other functions) that is underway at the previous location of the Shuinan Airport (see page HERE)
Something else that could have a major impact is the ongoing process of upgrading and expanding the Taichung International Airport (Chingchuankang, Qing Quan Gang) and the growing cross-strait ties. Both have led to a strong increase in money flowing into private leisure and entertainment businesses--leading to these businesses seeking to expand their operations and develop new offerings.
Going forward the Mayor has repeatedly stated he wants to turn the new Greater Taichung City into a major heavyweight in the region, both inside Taiwan and internationally. With greater resources there are many fantastic opportunities, but much will depend on the new City Council.
Does this provide me any opportunities and how will this change the development and growth of Taichung?
Almost certainly, though whether you benefit directly or indirectly will depend on what field you are in.
In the short run there are already a large number of major projects in motion targeting the merged city, all of which will create opportunities for business. These include such major projects as Gateway City and the Mass Rapid Transit system that will initially connect Wuri District (yes, it takes a little time to get used to referring to the townships now as districts) to Beitun District.
The merger will also require a lot changes to things like signs, government agency websites (including English-language ones!) and so forth that will keep a lot of folks busy for awhile.
In a broader sense, there are a lot of things coming together that make Taichung’s future over the next decade look quite bright. The merger will allow the city to begin some ambitious infrastructure and growth plans, though it may take some time for the city council to pass the necessary laws and regulations. The Mayor’s proposals include developing more and better transportation links, especially to China and to support developments like the Central Taiwan Science Park. This will be beneficial to both industry and tourism. Even relatively simple changes, such as allowing cargo flights to operate out of the Taichung International Airport can significantly improve local business competitiveness.
Situated in central Taiwan, Taichung City and County are in a strategically favorable position. It takes only half a day to travel to either northern or southern Taiwan and many out-of-town investors are attracted to real estate purchases here for that convenient reason. With a merger of the two districts, land prices and transactions will increase, notably because Taichung has the advantage of a convenient local transportation network and a hospitable environment for various businesses. Construction industries have already made note of Taichung's potential and started planning another round of development projects. After the merger, housing, deed, land and land value increment taxes will all help to further boast the government's tax revenues.
The opening of cross-strait links to China opens significant opportunities for both Taichung exporters as well as local businesses including shops, hotels and restaurants--plus all the businesses that support those. In 2011, the central government is planning to begin allowing individual travellers from China, removing the need for tour groups--which tend to lock in the tourists to specific itineraries. The new opera house, amphitheater and other projects are also geared towards making Taichung into an important cultural and tourism spot.
The Taichung City-County merger project aims to broaden the city's international perspectives and horizons, by rebuilding the greater Taichung area as a "metropolis with top competitive edge", and through the magnetic effect of these efforts, attract businesses to settle in Taichung and boost economic growth and activity. Taichung city shall thus act as a "locomotive", pulling all central Taiwan cities and counties into a brighter future.
Additionally, the Central Taiwan Science Park is undergoing massive expansion, which will be further boosted by the now vastly increased ability of the newly merged city to support and nurture.
Foreigners that will directly benefit will be exporters, service providers to exporters, restaurant owners in areas of high tourist traffic, hoteliers, bankers, certain types of engineers and those involved in shipping and transport. Indirectly, as the economy improves, others such as English teachers may also benefit from the increase in local spending power.
This is really just the very beginning of this project, and over the coming months and years it will become clearer how this will all work in practice. The government initially will have it's hands full with the transition. The city council has much to clarify from taxes to road names, and the administration is working hard on figuring out how to implement all the changes. There will be bumps on the way as this massive project is carried out.
The end result, however, will almost certainly be a much stronger and more efficient Taichung City with bright prospects for growth.