Wednesday, 12 January 2011 13:21
The financial controller of Mayo County Council has predicted that the county's economy is unlikely to start recovering until 2015, when a level of growth will return. Speaking at the authority's 2011 budget meeting yesterday (Monday), Peter Duggan said he is focussed on 'consolidating' the council's operations over the coming four years.
He stated the council's income from rates will increase by €1 million next year when the Shell E&P Ireland project in north Mayo is up and running.
But, in general, the immediate future involves maintaining financial viability, reducing costs and ensuring value for money.
Mr. Duggan explained the council is now operating at the same level it was in 2006 because of significant cuts to income and funding.
The authority's weakened financial position could result in the closure of the area offices in Belmullet, Ballina, Swinford, Claremorris, Ballinrobe and Westport as well as the machinery yard in Castlebar, according to Peter Hynes, county manager.He elaborated: "Because of rationalisation and our payroll being kept under tight scrutiny, there are no guarantees in regard to our existing structures, including the maintenance of our area offices. The future of our main machinery yard is also under review."
Mr. Hynes confirmed that staff numbers had already been reduced by 10 per cent while redeployment is taking place in a number of departments. Overtime has also been cut from €4.68 million in 2008 to €1.65 million last year, a 65 per cent reduction over a three-year period. However, pensions costs had risen substantially.
Majority of seats
He insisted capital investment in water and sewerage facilities, including the long-awaited extension to the Lough Mask scheme, will have to be shelved unless a 10 per cent increase in non-domestic water charges is adopted.
"We have 7,000 customers paying water charges and the rise will only result in an additional fee of 72 cents per week for 6,000 of them.
"It is inaccurate for any elected representative to suggest that the additional charge will prove the difference between retailers staying in business or not."
However, Mr. Hynes's comments were challenged by Councillor Peter Flynn and Councillor Eugene Lavin, both members of the Fine Gael party which holds a majority of seats on the council.
Councillor Flynn said the reality is that many businesses and industries will take a heavy hit of over €4,000 from the hike and they could no longer be expected to subsidise local government when there is a funding shortfall.
"If we were really serious about making the type of changes this council needs in order to survive, we should have opened our discussions six months ago and not after the new year has started."
Councillor Lavin described the proposal as 'unacceptable'.
"It cannot be tolerated at a time when so much water is wasted through leakage. The cost of water will have to be more evenly spread in the future," he added.