Signs around every town centre in Spain will point you in the direction of the ‘Ayuntamiento’. They are directing you towards one of the most important buildings in the area – the town hall.
As you would expect, the Town Hall is the official base for the elected mayor. He or she will hold meetings there and conduct most of their business from the building. Other civil servants or ‘funcionarios’ are based there too, working within different departments in a multitude of roles from processing documentation to organising fiestas.
Town halls in Spain do vary in size and organisation but all of them provide a core of amenities needed by the town. These services are financed by the Spanish IBI or council tax that everyone, including non-residents, must pay.
Registering on the padron
One service that is usually offered by the town hall is that of enlisting local residents on the pádron. The town hall is responsible for keeping a list of the people who live within its catchment area. You need to produce documentation initially to register. After your name has been entered you will only need a passport to obtain a confirmation certificate which is valid for three months.
Local police service
The policia local is the police force that patrols the local area and is responsible for attending to driving offences (although this is also dealt with by the guardia civil trafico) and minor law breaking. They provide a number of civil duties such as directing traffic by schools and supervising large events such as fiestas. They usually have a base or office within the town hall although their main operations might take place from a separate additional building somewhere in the town.
The bigger picture
Not all local decision-making is confined to the town hall. The town or municipality is also part of the larger province which is within the autonomous community. So, for example, the municipality of Torrevieja is within the province of Alicante which, in turn is in the autonomous community of Valencia.
This is one reason why it can be so difficult to work out in Spain what the practical application of a law is. Some central statutes apply to the whole country and then other regulations might be confined to a particular autonomous community. Move from one part of the country to another and requirements can change.
Torrevieja Town Hall
Torrevieja Town Hall is a good example of how central the town hall is as a provider of services. Under its umbrella comes almost everything related to the running of the town. It has, amongst others, a commerce department, a finance department, social services, education, local police, department for the 3rd Age, a building works department, cultural department and tourist office.
Graham Knight is based there. His position is quite unusual as he heads the Office for the Attention of International Residents, ‘It was decided by a previous Mayor,’ Graham explains, ‘That my role was needed to help break down some of the barriers for the international community.’ It is a job description you will not encounter in the majority of town halls in the country.
Graham’s job keeps him very busy. As an area with a large foreign population there have been many keen to seek out his advice, ‘I have had every query under the sun since I’ve been here,’ Graham explains, ‘Births, deaths, marriages as well as the more usual questions about obtaining residencias and going on the pádron. I was even asked once about artificial insemination services in the region! I think people see us a little like a Citizen’s Advice Bureau really.’
Although Graham is due to retire shortly, his role will continue, ‘It’s such an important service. It’s about keeping lines of communication open. It works both ways too,’ Graham adds, ‘Through hearing everyone’s concerns and problems, I can feed any trends or patterns back to the officials. After all, if they want to be re-elected then they have to show they are listening to the people in the town.’
Although only Spanish nationals can vote in the general elections, all those registered on the padron, whatever nationality, can vote in the local elections. The Town Hall is, after all, a service paid for by the local community and the councillors who are based there are elected by them too.