FRIDAY is decision day for Waterford Council as it struggles to agree a budget despite a huge gap in its finances.
The Government has eased the problem by granting the local authority an extra €2 million to help bridge the €3.3m gap caused by a change in the way Irish Water pays its rates.
But that still leaves a shortfall of more than a million euro to be met by increasing rates or cutting services.
Councillors are deeply divided on the issue with Sinn Féin vowing to “stand firm” against cutbacks and People Before Profit threatening “a people power campaign of non-payment” against any increase in rates or rents. Others have welcomed the increase in Government funding.
It was announced by Fine Gael councillor and election candidate, John Cummins, who said his colleague, housing minister Eoghan Murphy, had granted the council an additional €2 million to assist in the budgetary process.
He pointed out that the council had dealt with a budget shortfall of €1.2m some years ago.
nothing unusual about difficult budgets
“The current shortfall, while challenging is now commensurate with that figure following our increased subvention of €2 million and I am sure there will be a vast array of opinions on how that gap should be closed,” he said.
The shortfall has been caused by a decision to treat Irish Water like other public utilities and spread its rate payments throughout the country, in proportion to use, rather than going to the counties where the company’s properties are sited.
“There is nothing unusual about difficult budgets,” said Cllr Cummins. “In fact, our income from Irish Water (separate to rates) has dropped by €3.2 million over the past five years while our housing maintenance budget, for example, has increased by €985,000 over the same period. Difficult decisions always face the pact of the day but positions come with responsibility. Over the past decade when we were members of the controlling group we always managed to pass a balanced budget.”
a sticking plaster solution
If a council refuses to strike a budget, the Government has the power to step in, suspend the authority, and order measures to fix the problem.
People Before Profit, in a statement, called on councillors to “ignore any threat of abolition if no agreement is reached”.
It said that, if the council were suspended, it would organise a campaign of non-payment “in conjunction with other progressive forces including community organisations and trade unions”.
Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane called for compensation from the Government.
He said the allocation of €2m was for one year only and did not address the problem but was “a sticking plaster solution”.