A top Co. Council official claims 25 public servants would come to work in Carrick-on-Suir if the plans to refurbish and extend the town hall goes ahead during a heated row over the €2.9m project at Carrick Town Council’s annual budget meeting.
Carrick-on-Suir’s Town Manager Pat Slattery also revealed that the Town Hall project, which received planning permission last August, is on hold until the plans being drawn up for the amalgamation of South and North Tipperary Co. Councils are finalised in May.
He warned that Carrick-on-Suir’s local government affairs could easily be run from Clonmel and this could happen if the Town Council didn’t maintain a strong position in Carrick-on-Suir by revamping the Town Hall, which currently isn’t “fit for purpose”.
Mr Slattery said there were currently 15 local authority staff working in Carrick-on-Suir Town Hall but if the public building on New Street is refurbished and extended there would be accommodation for about 25 other public servants, which would strengthen Carrick-on-Suir’s local government role in the region.
He told councillors that when he told local traders of the prospect of 25 additional staff in the Town Hall they thought it was a good idea. These would be extra people shopping and spending money in Carrick-on-Suir every day.
The Town Manager made his comments as Fianna Fail Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan and Independent Pierce O’Loughlin raised again their concerns about the plans to spend a projected €2.9m on extending and renovating the Town Hall at a time when the Council is suffering funding cuts and local businesses are struggling.
The two councillors objected to the Town Council putting aside €50,000 in its 2012 budget for the Town Hall refurbishment.
They called for the estimated €600,000 the Council has already saved towards the project to be spent on a scaled back project to make the Town Hall accessible for people with disabilities.
Cllr O’Loughlin said he didn’t want the Council burdened with paying a large debt for this project for years and urged Town Council management to “leave the grandiose plans for the future”.
He pointed out that he would be delighted to see the 25 extra council staff working in Carrick Town Hall but he couldn’t see it happening in view of the economic state of the country and the government’s rationalisation of local government.
“We have people up in arms over the new household charge and people worried about the new rules for septic tanks, massive unemployment and billions of euro being forked out for the mistakes of the past. I can’t see the Department allowing us to go ahead and spend on building this for a diminished council.”
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan said the original plan was to make the Town Hall accessible to people with disabilities but now suddenly the project was about creating 25 jobs.
She found it hard to believe in this day and age that Council couldn’t put in a lift and make the Town Hall accessible for people with disabilities for €400,000.
“We have hit rock bottom, shops have closed, we have a VAT increase coming down the line and its going to hit every household on phone and electrical charges. The Town Hall can’t be seen to be taking money out and doing the Town Hall up when others are suffering. The Council should be leading the way and helping people.”
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan also took the Town Manager to task for describing the 25 council workers he envisaged coming to work in the Town Hall as new jobs created for the town. “You will not be taking 25 people off the Live Register. It’s not creating anything, it’s only deploying people who already have jobs.”
Mr Slattery responded that he saw the glass as being half full and the Town Council project as an opportunity to bring more people to Carrick-on-Suir to work.
He said the people of Tipperary Town, where a new €6m central and local government building is nearing completion, thought it was a good idea to attract more civil and public servants to work in their town. “Every other town in the country thinks it is a good idea but we don’t want it, I don’t understand it,” he exclaimed.
Cllr O’Loughlin responded that he didn’t see the situation as the Manager saw it. He saw the debt the Council would have to pay.
“Surely it’s a good thing to fight to bring people to the town,” Mr Slattery said in exasperation. “The people of Clonmel are fighting tooth and nail for their hospital and for the army barracks. Why can’t we fight for the Town Council?”
Town Clerk Michael O’Brien threw his support behind Mr Slattery. He told the meeting the Council would end up borrowing only about €600,000 for the Town Hall revamp when its savings, the money already spent on the project, the 50% funding it would recoup from the Co. Council and the favourable conditions for securing building cost reductions were taken into account.
He accused Cllr Cooney-Sheehan of being simplistic in her comments about installing the lift in the Town Hall. “You are talking about people in wheelchairs continuing to be treated as second class citizens,” he said.
“How dare you say that to me,” exclaimed an incensed Cllr Cooney-Sheehan several times and asked the Mayor Patsy Fitzgerald to step in when the Town Clerk repeated the phrase second class..
Mr O’Brien refused to retract his statement. “I don’t think the people of Carrick-on-Suir should be treated as second class citizens,” he declared. “It will be the only civic centre in the county where there hasn’t been an upgrade done to it. There are women and men, who have to drag buggies up the steps; there is no waiting area for people who have to discuss sensitive issues.”
Several other councillors supported the plans for the Town Hall. Cllr Richie O’Neill said he would welcome 25 workers coming to Carrick-on-Suir and pointed out that when he was mayor of the town, he had to host a function for a group from the Camphill Community over the Strand Theatre because they couldn’t be facilitated in the Town Hall.
The current Mayor Patsy Fitzgerald said the Town Manager had a good vision for the Town Hall and he believed the project would lift the town. “Franklin D Roosevelt during the Great Depression called the American people, sheeple, because everyone was so downtrodden, so I want the Town Hall to happen,” he declared.
At the end of the meeting, Cllr O’Loughlin voted against the 2012 budget partly because of the Council’s plans for the Town Hall while Cllr Cooney-Sheehan also cited the refurbishment plans among her reasons for abstaining from the vote.