Extra last minute cuts of over €750,000 had to be made to the annual budget for South Tipperary County Council, but councillors have voted overwhelmingly to approve a plan ‘not because of love for Michael Noonan but because of the work put in here with little or no cut backs.’
The comment was made by Cllr Eddie O’Meara, but other councillors agreed to support the work of the council ‘professionals’ and Chairman Michael Fitzgerald said that while the budget had been “cut to the bone” it would retain services and staff.
Arriving to the meeting on Monday morning, councillors learned that extra cuts, on top of an already tight budget, had had to be made when the Local Government Fund was cut by €1.4 million.
The extra cuts alone amount to €757,739. The biggest cut is in the general local roads maintenance works area, of over €138,000 with almost €40,000 cut from national roads maintenance.
There will be additional cuts of €50,000 to the fire service, to water plants and networks, €80,000 from corporate building costs, and €30,000 is cut from housing maintenance.
Good news for the business community is that rates have not increased.
Overall, in the budget, officials have managed to limit increased charges to only one area - water charges which will be increased by 5 cent per 1,000 litres, with a corresponding charge for waste water.
However cuts have had to be made across all programme areas.
“To say that we are living in an uncertain national and international environment is an understatement, but that is the context in which we must consider the draft budget for 2012,” South Tipperary County Manager Billy McEvoy introduced the council’s budget for the coming year.
With figures only finalised in the days before Monday’s meeting, and a supplemental page of stinging cuts of presented to councillors on Monday morning, there was an air of unhappiness but inevitability about the meeting.
Mr McEvoy said the council had a responsibility to provide essential services, like street sweeping, public lighting, water supply and treatment and fire services, which were not economic to provide. The council also supports the libraries, the arts, museums and civil defence. “I mention some of these because sometimes the good work we do as a local authority gets over looked,” Mr McEvoy said.
He added that South Tipperary County Council is a “leaner, more efficient organisation now than we were four years ago.”
He said the cut in the Local Government Fund was a 7.36% cut on last year, and the grant is down €7.3 million from 2008.
The council’s total budget for the coming year is now €70.59 million.
“We must be positive and not lose sight of the positive contribution of local government,” Mr McEvoy said they had proven they can adapt and provide services in a climate of industrial peace.
“The budget is balanced. It has been an extremely challenging exercise and a difficult situation but the budget is sufficient to run this organisation and encourage development in 2012.” He said they had tried to be fair across all areas.
Mr McEvoy said the council’s income base is very narrow and he called for this to be addressed nationally.
At the start of the meeting some councillors had called for an adjournment of one week to petition central government for extra funds. This proposal form Cllr Bill Shoer, seconded by Cllr Pat English and supported by Cllr Tom Wood, was defeated in a vote, with a call from Cllr Tom Acheson to “stop grand standing and have a proper debate.”
A suggestion from Cllr Eddie O’Meara that fire service charges be increased to provide extra money for road maintenance was not supported.
The meeting was told that government funding is being availed of to deal with “issues of public safety” in ‘ghost estates.’ There are 31 in the county area and funding is expected for four.
The opening hours of the motor tax offices in Cashel and Clonmel will be curtailed in the new year, to take account of falling staff numbers.
Councillors welcomed that there were no cuts to the library or museums budgets.
A proposal by Cllr English, seconded by Cllr Shore, to cut the €122,000 allocation for conferences and training and re-allocate the money to other areas was defeated by 21 votes to four, with Cllrs Sylvia Cooney Sheehan and Tom Wood supporting.
The full budget was proposed for adoption by Cllr Liam Ahern and seconded by Cllr Michael Anglim. It was passed by a vote of 22 to two, Cllrs English and Shoer voting against. One councillor was absent and Cllr Cooney Sheehan abstained on a housing issue.