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Thursday 14 November 2019

Councils to cut services as funding sliced again

Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Parks neglected and libraries closed as Minister slashes funding

STREETS and parks will be left neglected and libraries will be closed as cash-strapped councils face the daunting task of finding further budget reductions following swingeing cuts to local authority funding by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

Mr Hogan has sliced up to 15 per cent off city and county council grants based on the number of people who have paid the household charge in each of the 32 local authority areas.

Councils that are already operating on shoestring budgets must now decide what services are going to be hit by the reduction in funding which was introduced in recent weeks. Local authorities are funded from various Government grants along with income they generate from commercial rates and charges for goods and services.

The Croke Park Agreement rules out cuts to local authority wage bills and leaves areas such as road maintenance, community development and heritage conservation bearing the brunt of the reduction in the budget.

However, local authorities may also examine the millions of euro paid to councillors in allowance and expenses or ask themselves if foreign conferences and town-twinning costs are still legitimate spending in the current climate.

In the accompanying chart, we have outlined the funding cuts to each local authority's budget and also highlighted services that may come under the knife as councils look to balance their books.

The general purpose grant (GPG) is a contribution from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government used to fund the day-to-day running of local authorities.

Mr Hogan introduced cuts of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent to councils' third-quarter payment depending on the compliance rate with the household charge in each area.

A department spokesman said: "It is a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to locally identified needs."

Roscommon Mayor Tom Crosby warned that his council would be forced to make cuts across the board that will affect the most vulnerable in society.

Mr Crosby said: "Anything could be hit, in Roscommon we're looking at road maintenance, housing maintenance, elderly persons and disabled persons' grants and you have the likes of closing public conveniences. Tidy towns grants and burial grounds grants -- they could all be withdrawn now."

Donegal County Council has the worst household charge compliance rate with just 49 per cent of houses in the county registered with the Local Government Management Agency.

The lack of compliance means the local authority has received a massive €1.1m cut in its budget which could see popular seaside towns such as Bundoran suffer due to lack of maintenance.

However, the council has also budgeted €15,000 for foreign conferences and set aside €356,200 for councillor expenses and allowances.

Dublin City Council has also been hit with a €1.1m cut to its budget due to a 67 per cent compliance rate.

The council spends €3.7m alone on litter management annually but it may also look at €60,000 spent on foreign conferences and €50,000 on town twinning.

In Mayo, Taoiseach Enda Kenny's home county, 66 per cent of households have paid the charge and the local authority had €641,589 cut from its Government funding.

In contrast, Taniste Eamon Gilmore's constituency in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has the best compliance rate at 81 per cent but still saw its budget sliced by €343,583.

Sunday Independent

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