The introduction of regions would only divide Croatia, the chairman of the Association of Counties and head of Sibenik County, Goran Pauk, said on Tuesday presenting the results of a survey in which almost 90% of citizens said that a reduction of the number of counties should not be the first cost-cutting and budget rationalisation measure at the state level.

The survey was conducted among 750 adult citizens and 73% said that counties, cities and municipalities had much better defined their priorities for budget funding than the central government.

Almost half of the respondents, or 49%, believed that the abolishment of counties would lead to further centralisation of decision-making because decisions would be made in large cities or at the state level.

As many (49%) also agreed that counties were a part of local identity. More than half those surveyed (53%) do not agree with the idea of their county 'falling under' the responsibility of another county or regional centre.

The survey shows that 63% of citizens recognised the role of county administration in road management. Counties are responsible for 18,534 kilometres of county and local roads.

The Association of Counties is actively involved in the debate concerning proposed reforms of local and regional government. "Currently there is more talk in the media about the number of new regions than about their substance. County administration are true generators of regional development and we will attempt to document that," Pauk (HDZ) said.

The association supports the idea of sound analysis, he said and added that he did not doubt they would prevail because they had strong arguments in favour, whereas the introduction of regions would divide Croatia.

Public Administration Minister Dubravka Jurlina Alibegovic of the Bridge party said recently that she supported the consolidation of counties and reducing their numbers.

"We accept this difficult time for Croatia and are not shunning from reforms at the public, local or regional government levels. We want to take an active part in reforms, which we hadn't done before," Pauk said.

"The reform of local and regional government does not include only territorial reorganisation but decentralisation of functions and finances as well. That means tasks but also the money that will support the implementation of those tasks," he said. "The position of the Croatian Association of Counties is that central government in Croatia is best organised with counties as regions and that along with counties as regions we do not need a new regional division."

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