Water, roads, housing and disabled grants to be hit in €1.8m budget shortfall

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

Roads maintenance budgets are to be cut by 32%, water and waste water networks and treatment plants are to lose 15% of budget and building and housing grants, including the Disabled Persons Grant, will also be cut by 15% because €1,851,128 is to be withheld from the County Council budget by the government.

Because only 58% of homes have paid the Household Charge in South Tipperary the county council has been informed that 11% is to be cut from the annual Local Government Fund.

The original allocation was €17,472,862.

The news was sent to councils on July 18, and reported in The Nationalist last week. Last Friday a special meeting of South Tipp County Council was held to discuss the emergency budget situation and councillors were told of the harsh cuts which will now have to be made to local services.

Voices were raised and tempers frayed at the meeting, however there were many calm voices that urged a practical approach. While most councillors urged people to pay the charge, those against the Household Charge remained vehement in their opposition.

“The bottom line is that money is being withheld because of a lack of payment of the Household Charge,” Council Chairman John Crosse told fellow councillors as he convened the special meeting. Making further cutbacks in the council’s budget will be difficult, he said. He appealed to the people of South Tipperary to pay the Household Charge to secure local services. He said he recognised times are hard but urged the paying of the Household Charge as a priority.

County Manager Billy McEvoy said it would be “unthinkable” for €1.8 million to be cut from the council’s budget. €462,782 is being cut immediately, he said.

A review of the budget has already been carried out by council officials and Mr McEvoy said cuts to be made include: 32% from the regional and local roads maintenance budget; 15% each from the building and housing maintenance and grant allocation; 15% from the maintenance of water and waste water networks plus treatment plants; as well as smaller cuts to planning control, the fire brigade service, environment services including the environmental awards, burial grounds, and library services. “Services people forget we provide,” according to Mr McEvoy.

Reminders have already been sent out to people who have not paid the charge. “The key message from us as a local authority is that we have to ‘up our game’ in collecting the charge or we will have to further reduce services.”

Mr McEvoy said that legal action will be taken as a last resort.

The county manager went on to say that as a local authority that pays out grants they will have to now look into if applicants have paid the Household Charge.

Cllr Eddie O’Meara said “this is bad news, the cuts are massive.

“Others that have to take responsibility are the people that went out and told people ‘don’t pay the charges.’ I hope they now go out and tell people that they won’t be getting their pot holes filled because they didn’t pay the Household Charge.”

He said “a lot of decent people” would be more willing to pay if there was a pay-by-installment option.

Cllr Marie Murphy said there is a community centre in every village and town and people should be facilitated to pay there.

Cllr Pat English maintained the argument of his party, the Workers and Unemployed Action Group, when he insisted the Household Charge is “an attack on family homes.”

“I ask the 42% of people in South Tipperary to stick with us and see this unjust tax abolished. I ask the minister to replace it immediately.”

“And pull a rabbit out of the hat?” Cllr Murphy responded.

Cllr Richie Molloy said it was a serious situation now money was being held back from the council. He accepted nobody liked paying the charge but he said it was the law of the land.”I accept money is very, very tight but we are faced with the facts now. Do we carry on with less and less services?

There was a huge contrast in the way the new septic tank charge was handled compared to the Household Charge, Cllr Denis Leahy pointed out.

“It was an abysmal performance by the minister. I think we as a council should go to the minister and say this is not the way forward. This smacks of McCarthyism.” Thumping the table for emphasis he added: “It’s bad for local government, and for central government.”

“Councillors have a duty to work as hard as we can for people. I think we have no business here as councillors if we do not accept this serious budgetary situation,” Cllr Jack Crowe said. “The Household Charge is €2 a week, I can’t see anything wrong with that. What about the people who have paid? As far as I am concerned this should be paid. We have to look after people. I’d nearly resign from this council.”

The opposing view was taken by Cllr Billy Shoer. “I think it’s absolutely shocking that a government who made a hames of this Housheold Charge have put it back on the council. I’m opposing this. Put my name at the top of the list I won’t be paying,” an angry Cllr Shoer said.

Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said: “The only way to handle this is to handle it as we have done with things in the past, positively.” He said the IMF were not just looking into Leinster House and the Central Bank, they are in every county now. “We are all in this together and have to try and get ourselves out of it. We are going to do this in a reasonable and constructive way.

“I can guarantee you we will get out of this mess.”

Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan said people in Ireland got used to not paying for services, but it’s here and we have to get used to it. “It’s easy to come in her and bang the table and shout and roar.”

Cllr Joe Donovan predicted there will be no increase in payments of the charge until next spring when people are facing fines and court penalties. “We are going to have to face cuts and God help our services. Roads are bad enough, if we have to pull the patching units we will have to tell people ‘do a bit of local fundraising and we’ll sell you a bit of tar and chips and someone locally can do it.’”

County Manager, Billy McEvoy, said that for a new property tax achieving a 60% payment rate was actually very successful.

He told the meeting that the council will look for an increased overdraft, in case it is needed, but they would have to balance the books.

He also said the time for payment of the Household Charge by instalments was passed.

The meeting was also informed that currently the Local Government Fund is financed from Motor Tax and the Household Charge. Currently the Motor Tax income in the county is falling short of what central government grant to South Tipperary.

In response to a questions form councillors, Mr McEvoy said temporary council workers whose contracts are to expire in August will be let go, but this was already planned before the funding cut.