South Tipperary and North Tipperary Co. Councils are to be amalgamated at the next local elections in three years time as part of the Government’s programme of cost saving local government reforms, Environment & Local Government Minister Phil Hogan has announced,.
The Minister issued a statement yesterday (Tuesday) revealing that a unified Co. Council for Tipperary will come into effect from the 2014 local elections, replacing the existing North and South Tipperary Co. Councils.
The merger will result in a reduction in the number of county councillors, which currently stands at 47 between the two local authorities, and is widely expected to lead to more local authority job cuts in north and south Tipperary.
It will also lead to the rationalisation of County Development Boards, Joint Policing Committees and any other local authority linked bodies in the north and south of the county.
The new joint local authority will serve a significantly increased population of 159,000 people, compared with 70,219 in North Tipperary Co. Council and 88,433 in South Tipperary Co. Council.
Minister Hogan said the merger would achieve greater savings both through the generation of scale economies and efficiencies and the removal of duplication, with the integration of administrations and service delivery.
He claimed that the merger should enable commercial rates in North Tipperary, which are currently €60.13 to be reduced to the South Tipperary level of E56.77, which it is estimated will cost in the region of €389,000.
Mr Hogan said the rationale for unifying the two council should also bring about stronger, more cohesive local government that is better positioned to promote the interests of the county and contribute to job creation and the recovery effort generally.
“A unified local authority, following 173 years of separation, will serve an increased population, should have greater scale, strength, assets and capacity to help meet challenges arising and to promote the economic and social development of the county as a whole”, commented Mr. Hogan.
A review of local electoral areas across South and North Tipperary will take place in 2012 for the purpose of the elections to the new unified county council in 2014.
An implementation group will be set up to oversee the practical work of reorganising the local government structures in the county.
Minister Hogan indicated that he would announce further details of the implementation arrangements in September.
North and South Tipperary were among the authorities for which the 2010 Local Government Efficiency Review Group report recommended joint management arrangements.
The decision to merge the two Co. Tipperary local authorities follows the recent announcement of the merger of Limerick City and County Councils.
Minister Hogan said the mergers were the most significant change in the structure of local government for many years and were among the early actions in a wider programme of local government reform and development he will be developing over the coming months.
There has been a mixed reaction among South Tipperary politicians to the news.
Fianna Fail Cllr. Sean McCarthy said he wasn’t totally surprised at the announcement of the amalgamation and believes there’s “a degree of logic” in the proposal.
While he was sure there would be a lot of opposition to the move, the veteran Fianna Fail councillor said local government had to be re-structured to make it more efficient and cost effective.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved in South Tipperary and if there is to be any amalgamation I hope the high standards that we set in South Tipperary wouldn’t be in any way compromised”, he stated.
“Our staff in South Tipperary are absolutely outstanding and I would hate if we lost any of them. They’re an example to other counties”, he said.
He speculated that the merger of the councils would probably mean a reduction in the number of Councillors. There would also be a question of where the administrative headquarters for the entire county would be located, but Cllr. McCarthy was sure these were problems that could be ironed out.
Reduced administrative costs might mean there would be room for manoeuvre for a possible reduction in rates, but he didn’t want to raise false promises in that regard.
Labour Cllr Sean Lonergan from Cahir, however, said he was totally against the merger because of the large geographical size of North and South Tipperary. He pointed out that South Tipperary was larger than many counties and it will mean much larger electoral areas covered by less councillors.
He also doesn’t believe the merger will save much money. He questioned whether a new county hall would have to be built and pointed out that councillors will have to travel further distances to meetings and for council business, which will incur expenses.
Cllr Lonergan said it would also mean more local authority job losses on top of what the job cuts that had already taken place, which he believed will impact on services to the public.
Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes has welcomed the news that both Tipperary County Councils are to be amalgamated prior to the 2014 local elections.
“I welcome the decision by the Minister to bring together the County Councils here in Tipperary. Although we have yet to see some of the details of this plan, I am optimistic that there are benefits for all concerned,” he told The Nationalist.
“The integration of key services in both North and South Tipperary will ensure significant savings in future budgets. It is my belief that these savings can and should be used to reduce the rates paid by the retail sector.”
“Although there are certainly details to be teased out, I am hopeful that this merger will result in the provision of an enhanced local authority and a more prosperous and successful Tipperary” he concluded.