Sunday 4 December 2016

Crisis for councils as savage cuts hit services

From Lollipop ladies being axed to playground funding cuts, we're all about to get it in the neck, says Roisin Burke

Published 03/07/2011 | 05:00

THEY control your water, rubbish collection, fire services, playgrounds, parks and more. But with development levies and commercial rates slashed to ribbons, councils are running seriously short of money in some cases.

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Dublin City Council

Budget €840.2m

Down by €86m (10%)

Staff down 749 to 6,182 (12%)

A dirtier, less literate Dublin with falling firefighter numbers and a creaking water and waste service could be in store if income keeps falling.

The council warns it can't meet all customer expectations on water supply so if it ever stops raining and there's a dry spell, supplies aren't guaranteed and there's "no provision" if there's another Big Freeze like last year.

In the city and suburbs, from Fairview to Rathmines, residential road and street cleaning is being cut from once a week to just once every three months.

In the city centre, the number of street cleaning vans and staff have dropped. The city's household junk collection service -- where it would take away old mattresses and TVs every few months -- has been halted, saving €1.5m, but illegal dumping is rising as a result.

Cleaning up graffiti isn't happening any more unless it's offensive. The €3.2m cut to the Dublin Fire Brigade budget is mostly "payroll cost savings" but councillors and fire service insiders beg to differ.

The budget for buying books and CDs for libraries is down by more than €160,000.

There is virtually no budget for flower and tree planting or pruning, or for parks like Phoenix Park, Stephen's Green and the Iveagh Gardens, as the €1.37m Parks Improvements Fund has been yanked.

Staff at the city's swimming pools and gym facilities have been cut. Council leisure centres, including Swan Leisure in Rathmines, now find they are competing for income with scores of struggling private gyms.

Spend on the upkeep of playgrounds has been halved to €825,000.

A hike in clamping fines from €80 to €100 is under consideration, as is one to increase parking permit charges, from €40 to €50 each.

People are piling on to the housing list but close to €7m has been cut from the housing budget.

At least €1.5m less in commercial rates will come in this year.

Dun Laoghaire

Rathdown

Budget €194.97m

Down by €32.14m (14%)

Staff down 397 to 1,813 (21%)

The council lost its shirt on an unfortunate affordable housing venture, paying about €15m for 63 affordable homes on the grounds of the former Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. The selling price was forced down to an average €100,000 per unit, meaning millions lost.

Grants to kit out homes properly for disabled people are cut to €550,000 this year, from €2.32m. Some 40 per cent, or €84,300, less is being spent on public loo cleaning and maintenance.

Almost €1m less will go towards the fire service.

Planned new cycle lanes aren't progressing any further than paper stage as funding can't be confirmed.

The council says it has no funding for taking charge of estates beyond 2011. More than €1m has been cut from litter control -- emptying of bins, street cleaning and so on. €150,000 less will be spent on book-buying for local libraries, almost €100,00 less on arts programmes, and €430,000 less is going on festivals and concerts.

Spending on cleaning the area's beaches, from Salthill to Killiney, is down 40 per cent to €291,700. Provision for bad debts from rates and levies has rocketed to €6.7m.

The budget for councillors' jollies has been cut from €53,000 to €20,000.

A further 10-15 per cent of jobs are to go by spring 2012.

Fingal Co Council

Budget €249.02m

Down by €8.37m (just 3.36%)

Staff down 251 to 1,379 (18%)

Fingal stashed away a lot of development levy and rates money and still has some of that in the bank, which meant its cuts have been relatively low, but rates income will be down at least €3.6m this year.

In Balbriggan, only half of the expected rates were collected with a whopping €113,000 "irrecoverable".

An axe has been hanging over the emergency ambulance service based in Swords and costing around €17.5m as HSE funding was withdrawn. A deal might still be hashed out as local opposition to it going is fierce.

Another 49 staff will be cut from payroll by 2012.

€143,000 has been knocked off the budget to buy books, DVDs and CDs for libraries.

More than €500,000 is being pulled from funding outdoor facilities like football pitches, parks, beaches and playgrounds.

South Dublin

Budget €249.01m

Down by €35.26m (12.5%)

Staff down 138 to 1,334 (10%)

Development levy income in the South Dublin Council region has collapsed from €45m to less than €5m and the rates income is falling, while bad debt provision is up almost €5m to €18.8m.

The public swimming pool planned for Lucan "is impossible now and a playground programme is also stalled", says a councillor. "We're at the pin of our collar to maintain our parks."

€1m is coming off the fire service budget.

A further 10-15 per cent of staff are to go in 2012.

Cork City Council

Budget €196.63m

Down by €1.6m (a 19% cut)

Staff down 201 to 1,400 (14%)

Payroll has been slashed by €10.8m but there's more to come, with staff cuts to be close to 25 per cent by the end of the year. Despite that, the council is to spend €250,000 on a facelift for City Hall.

Public parks, cycle lanes and park-and-ride facilities are being hit hard, local representatives say.

Diarmuid Gavin's €2m Chelsea garden is to go on display in 2012 and will cost at least a gardener's salary, around €40,000, to maintain.

In total, parks and recreation centres will lose 80 per cent funding from €3.3m in 2011 to €600,000 in 2012.

The €270,000 funding six community warden jobs has been pulled. The massive €1bn Atlantic Quarter docklands development is on hold, indefinitely, as the main developer has been Nama-ed.

Close to €600,000 was cut on procurement costs and €45,000 on consultants and barristers and other legal fees.

Housing spend is being cut from €16.7m this year to €7m in 2012.

Council staff perks were cut by €575,000.

Limerick City Council

Budget €87.41m

Down €0.41m (1%)

Staff down 95 to 612 (15%)

As it never had a rates and development bonanza, the city's budget has reduced very little. The feted €3bn regeneration project is the major casualty of the economic crash, however. Now it will be just €300m spent over 10 years.

Limerick is the European City of Sport for 2011, but €561,000 less is being spent on the city's recreation and amenities.

Nearly €100,000 less is being spent on leisure facilities, including €10,000 less on sports and recreation. A further €100,000 less is being spent on parks, pitches and open spaces.

"We can't recruit school wardens (ie lollipop men and women) because of the staff embargo, and there are always areas looking for them," one councillor complained.

Councillors' expenses have been slashed by €80,000.

Galway City COUNCIL

Budget €85.7m

Down by €11.46m (a 12% cut)

Staff down 98 to 482 (17%)

There's a rates crisis. So far this year, only 30 per cent, or €33m, of what was expected has come in. Irrecoverable rates are budgeted at €4.65m but are likely to be far higher.

Conference and expenses allowances of nearly €500,000 in 2008 have gone to a big fat zero for jaunts abroad now.

Street cleaning at the weekends (when the crowds throng Shop Street) has been curbed in order to avoid shelling out on overtime.

Parks and pitches spend is down by more than €100,000 and nothing is being spent on playgrounds this year.

With demand from families seeking to economise, the council is providing for allotments for the first time.

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