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Monday 18 November 2019

Threat to roads and services as councils face multi-million euro cuts to budgets

Concerns: Michael Walsh warned cuts would have a profound effect
Concerns: Michael Walsh warned cuts would have a profound effect
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Some of the country's largest local authorities are warning of threats to vital local services as they face multi-million euro budget cuts next year.

The Irish Independent can reveal that all four local authorities in Dublin as well as councils in Waterford, Kildare, Wicklow and Limerick are facing combined budget cuts of more than €21m next year because of changes to how commercial rates for Irish Water are calculated.

Politicians are being warned this could have a "profound" impact on funding for roads and other local services, with some councils looking for a bailout from the Government.

The problem has arisen as a result of changes to how commercial rates on Irish Water infrastructure are calculated.

Over the past five years, local authorities were compensated by central government in lieu of commercial rates from Irish Water.

Last year, they received €46m.

From next year, the utility will be liable for commercial rates calculated on the basis of population similar to how rates for telecoms, gas and electricity companies are calculated. Irish Water will still meet the €46m bill but the change in the valuation process means that while most local authorities will get more money, several are facing significant shortfalls.

Figures seen by this newspaper show that Dublin City Council is facing a budget cut of more than €8.7m; with a cut of €4.1m in South Dublin County Council; €2.3m in Fingal; and €1.2m in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Wicklow County Council is facing a cut of more than €800,000 while Kildare is facing a €420,000 cut and Limerick City and County Council a €100,000 cut.

Proportionately Waterford City and County Council is among the worst-affected with a €3.3m cut on the cards. Its CEO Michael Walsh told local politicians last week that this would have a "profound" effect on funding for local services including roads, arts, festivals and community services. Waterford councillors held an emergency meeting to discuss the matter yesterday. Local Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane is seeking an urgent meeting with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

A Dublin City Council spokeswoman said it was a "significant issue" that would be addressed at a budget meeting on November 18. "Dublin City Council strongly disputes that the scale of Irish Water properties situated in Dublin City can be narrowly correlated solely to the population of Dublin City. Notwithstanding DCC's submissions countering this approach, the department has proceeded with it," a spokeswoman said.

Other affected local authorities said they were engaging with the department or declined to comment.

The department said it was "actively monitoring the financial impact of this transition on local authorities, in the context of their overall financial positions". It also claimed that "on a like-for-like basis, local authorities will be in receipt of €23m more in funding in 2020 when compared to 2019".

Irish Independent

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