But the council ended up paying twice as much for the valuation work as they would have done had they hired regular auctioneers instead, it is alleged.
The revelation, which has highlighted a serious fault in the tendering system, was made at a meeting of the authority by Fine Gael Councillor Peter Flynn.
The Westport-based representative stated the firm in question, which he did not name publicly, was paid a sum of €413,000 by the council over the past three years.
The fees they charged for valuations in a number of towns were Kiltimagh (€242), Ballinrobe (€276), Belmullet (€290) and Louisburgh (€260).
Councillor Flynn said he had carried out his own investigation into the matter and found there were auctioneers in each of the towns in question who charged just €121 per valuation.
He said the blind loyalty being shown by the council to the providers of professional was not justified.
“There is a big disparity in what the council paid and what it could have saved. I am talking about ratepayers’ money here and it is clear to me they are being done a disservice by the tendering process.”
Councillor Flynn has demanded a full report on how the high charges for valuations were agreed in the first place. He is also questioning fees paid annually to legal advisors and coroners.
Councillor Michael Burke also expressed concern over the scale of professional fees being paid out by the council on an annual basis.
He argued there was something intrinsically wrong with the tendering system that needed to be urgently addressed.
Peter Hynes, county manager, claimed the figures being quoted by Councillor Flynn and Councillor Burke were not current.
“I gave an undertaking I would look at the professional fees being paid out by this council and I have begun the process of doing so.”
In response, Councillor Flynn and Councillor Burke said the figures related to the closing months of 2011
Speaking at a meeting of Castlebar Town Council, Seamus Granahan, town manager, said the process by which an auctioneering firm was recently appointed by Mayo County Council was conducted in an open and transparent fashion.
“If there are issues with the criteria, they will be re-examined.”
Councillor Eugene McCormack stated the bar was set so high that only a small number of auctioneers were in a position to tender.
“If we want to ensure value for money in all cases, then the criteria will have to be altered.”
Councillor Frank Durcan said he raised concerns about professional fees being paid out by Mayo County Council when he tabled a motion at a meeting of the authority last year.
He was very disappointed at the time that members of the Fine Gael party chose not to support him. Now, however, members of the party were starting to get worried by the level of wastage and overspend within the local government system.
Councillor Durcan pointed out local plant hire operators were being put out of business by the existing tendering system.
Councillor Michael Kilcoyne said there is more to the problem than meets the eye and he intended to get to the bottom of it over the coming months.
Councillor Thérése Ruane stated local businesses should be given a level of priority in order to protect local jobs.
Mr. Granahan emphasised the local authority quote system was put in place in the first place to give everybody a chance of apply. Ultimately, the lowest tender is the one that is picked.
He said he will arrange for the county council’s procurement officer to attend a forthcoming meeting of the town council to give a full report on how the system works.
Councillor Harry Barrett stated the whole tendering system appeared to be ‘cloak and dagger’.
“There should definitely be a system of local tendering,” he added.
Sean Higgins, town engineer, explained the town council no longer had any control in that regard.