County Councils merger will cost €2.35m - but could save €6m annually, meeting told

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

The merger of Tipperary’s county councils will cost €2.35m to achieve in 2014 while a boundary commission is to be established to redraw the county’s electoral areas and review councillor numbers ahead of the local elections in June that year.

And new customer service desks are to be installed at the two main centres for the new all Tipperary Co. Council at the existing county halls in Clonmel and Nenagh, which will enable customers to have access to all the local authority’s services.

This new information about the controversial unification of the county’s local government emerged at South Tipperary Co. Council’s September meeting where there was further condemnation of the plan from independent councillors with Cllr Richie Molloy appealing to the Council to request the merger be deferred.

Cllr Molloy’s call, however, wasn’t taken up by other councillors with Cllrs Siobhan Ambrose (FF) and Tom Wood (Ind) pointing out it was akin to closing the gate after the horse has bolted as the decision has been made.

And County Manager Billy McEvoy strongly advised members against tabling a motion seeking the merger’s deferral or abandonment and reminded them that a similar motion was defeated in a recent vote.

Meanwhile, a summary of the main recommendations of the Implementation Plan for the councils’ unification was presented at the Council meeting including estimated figures for the total costs and savings the merger will achieve.

The report revealed the merger will involve once-off costs of €1.79m, mostly for information technology, and it will cost a further €560,000 to harmonise commercial rates and service charges across both councils.

However, this €0.56m rates and services harmonisation cost will be incurred every year, not just once off.

The Implementation Plan estimates, however, that the merger will achieve an annual saving of €6m in the long term.

As previously revealed, this includes a target 10% reduction in payroll costs, namely salaries and wages excluding pensions, amounting to €4.8m per annum, and a further annual saving of €1.35m on non-pay administrative costs.

There will be a 40% reduction at top management level, which Mr McEvoy explained would translate to a cut from 13 such staff to six comprising a county manager and five directors of services covering the entire county.

Mr McEvoy said a lot of consultation will have to take place with the public representatives group, council staff and their unions over the next year.

Independent Cllr Denis Leahy, one of the most vocal critics of the merger at the meeting, disputed the predictions about payroll cost reductions in the interim future because of the terms of the Croke Park Agreement. He argued that even though the number of top management positions would be reduced, the staff would still remain.

Fianna Fail Cllr Siobhan Ambrose highlighted that a huge percentage of council staff were concerned they will be required to commute daily to Nenagh for work and asked when staff will be notified about deployments.

Mr McEvoy responded that there was no incentives for people to retire at this point in time and acknowledged that without such incentives the savings couldn’t be achieved in the short or longer term.

Director of Services Sean Keating, who was also on the merger Implementation Group, said there would be a break up of services between Clonmel and Nenagh with some services located at one centre and others at the second centre. However, there will be a senior person for every council service in both centres. Very detailed workforce planning is to be carried out to deal with this, he explained.

Cllr Molloy said he wasn’t convinced this merger was a good idea and expressed concern at the amount it will cost to unify the council. He couldn’t understand why they should spend €2m on this merger in order that they may get some savings down the road.

“This thing is running down the tracks yet the minister is not coming back telling us how the public representatives will represent their new areas. The citizens of South Tipperary are going to be the losers in this merger of councils,” he complained.

He believed the Council was “shooting itself in the foot” and called on the local authority to request the Government to defer the merger.

Fellow Independent Cllr Denis Leahy expressed concern that public representatives won’t be able to effectively represent their constituents in the larger electoral areas they will have to cover. He pointed out that the Local Authorities Members Association (LAMA) believed the current set up of two county councils was the most efficient way to operate and asked if there was political interference at play in the merger.

Cashel independent Cllr Tom Wood said going back over these issues was a waste of time because the gate was closed on the merger decision. However, he believed councillors were being “totally left out in the cold” and yet the local elections were only a year and ten months away.

The County Manager responded that he was a bit saddened by the approach being taken by councillors and pointed out that it would lead to a them against us situation, which will not benefit either North or South Tipperary. “If we take the strengths from both sides and work with that we have some hope in the future to create economies of scale and efficiencies.

He explained that a thorough assessment of savings and costs will be made over the next 12 months and work on that will begin immediately.

He stressed that there was no political contact or interference with the Implementation Group, which was independent.