Healy, English slam €122,200 allocated for 'junkets'
South Tipperary Co. Council will not increase its commercial rates and council housing rents next year but will hike refuse and water charges to help pay for its services, according to its budget for 2011 that was passed by an overwhelming majority of its elected members on Monday.
The Budget, which anticipates an 8% cut in the Council's funding from central government next year, was adopted by 23 votes to two following five hours of deliberation.
The Council's two Workers and Unemployment Action Group members, former TD Cllr Seamus Healy and Cllr Pat English from Clonmel were the two members to vote against the budget.
They also mounted an unsuccessful bids to get the Council to defer adapting the Budget until it knew the Local Government Fund allocation it was to receive and to redirect the €122,200 fund for councillors expenses in 2011 to the Council's core services.
Following the Budget meeting, both councillors issued a statement claiming South Tipperary's county councillors had decided to "carry on junketing and wasting tax-payers money" at a time when the Council was experiencing a "slash and burn policy of cutbacks by the Government" that was causing huge cutbacks to all services in the Council.
Businesses across the county didn't get their wish for a commercial rate cut but the Council did meet them half way by keeping the levy at the same level as this year.
The Rateable Valuation Multiplier (formerly the rate in the ) is to remain at 56.77, which County Manager Ned O'Connor pointed out was the fifth lowest in the country and second lowest in the South East.
But the Council's refuse collection customers face an increase in the charges for recycling and residual waste though the Council has decided not to increase the fixed annual charge, which will remain at €230.
The pay by weight charge per kilogram of residual waste will rise from 23c to 26c on January 1, while the recycling label charge will increase from 75c to 85c.
Despite the significant loss of refuse collection customers this year, the Council has decided to maintain its waiver scheme for people in financial hardship.
Some water charges imposed on non-domestic customers will also increase. The minimum charge for water only will remain at €250 while the combined water and wastewater charge will decrease from €390 to €300. This includes the meter charge, whcih will increase from €30 to €60.
But the volumeric charge for wastewater will rise by 10 cents per cubic metre from 95cent to j1.05 per 1000 litres. There will not be any increase in volumeric charges for water next year.
Mr O'Connor, in his address to the Council Budget meeting, said the Council had to prune spending in all areas in devising next year's budget.
He outlined that the Council's staff numbers fell by just over 100 since 2008, staff suffered pay cuts of between 10% and 30% and the Council was forced to reduce its service in some instances.
He said the Council had cut its overall spending by €18.2m since 2008 and its capital spending was down from €190m in 2007 to just j40m this year due to funding cuts.
Mr O'Connor pointed out that there had also been very significant reductions in the Council's income since 2008.
The Council experienced a cut of over €6m in its Local Government Fund since 2008 and it was anticipated that this will fall by a further 8% to €18.67m in 2011.
"Against this background it has been a major challenge to maintain our level of targets. I appreciate in the current situation some people who pay money to the Council have difficulties doing so."
He stressed that the Council would continue to deal sympathetically with genuine cases of people in financial difficulties.
A motion tabled by Cllrs Healy and English to defer consideration of the Council's Budget until the Government informed the Council of the level of the Local Government Fund was rejected by 21 votes to 2.
Cllr Healy had claimed it was "absolutely horrendous" that the Council was being asked to approve the Budget when it hadn't any idea of the level of this funding and before they even knew if the national Budget would be passed in the Dail this week.
But the County Manager said the Council had passed its Budget for quite a number of years without knowing its LGF allocation and the Fine Gael whip Cllr Michael Fitzgerald shot back that it wouldn't matter a "hoot" to the Council's budget whether the national Budget was passed this week.
Tensions rose again at the end of the meeting when the WUAG councillors tabled a motion calling for the €122,000 earmarked for councillors expenses in 2011 to be re-allocated to the Council's essential services.
Cllr English, who proposed the motion, slammed the Council's spending on conferences as a "total waste of public money", which could be better spent elsewhere.
Labour Cllr Darren Ryan shot back that he was not going to be lectured to by somebody, who hadn't any hestitation in claiming expenses for attending VEC meetings around the county while Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan accused Cllr English of being "hypocritical".
Cllr Healy, in seconding the motion, said he had been opposed to "junkets" all his political life and never took part in them. He pointed out that it cost €897 per councillor to attend a weekend conference in Donegal. He condemned the culture of waste of public money in this country and it was one of the reasons the country was in trouble.
An angry Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said he took great exception to Cllr Healy putting his fellow councillors on the same scale as people who wasted money in FAS and the banks and claimed his agenda was more to do with the upcoming election.
He pointed out that he paid his own way to a conference in Chicago a month ago at which the village of Emly received an international award.
After their motion was roundly rejected, the WUAG councillors called for their share of the €122,000 expenses fund to be diverted to the Council's essential services but were informed by Council management that this wasn't possible as the fund wasn't divided into separate allocations for individual councillors.