Saturday 20 April 2019

Council reject draft budget over pay parking increases

A proposal to increase pay parking hourly charges for both Dundalk and Drogheda was rejected
A proposal to increase pay parking hourly charges for both Dundalk and Drogheda was rejected

Olivia Ryan

Louth County Councillors voted down the draft budget after increases to pay parking were proposed.

CEO Joan Martin began by telling members that there was a significant shortfall in the council's funds.

She outlined a number of areas where expenditure had increased over the last year and in order provide a balanced budget she had to find additional revenue for the local authority.

'Unfortunately, 2019 is set to be another very difficult financial year for Louth County Council's revenue budget. We face ever rising costs across a range of areas,' she told members.

She highlighted wages and salaries as one area, with only 80% of cost of any increases being funded, costing around €500,000 per annum.

There were also increased costs in insurance and public lighting.

The local authority are also meeting additional costs for services to the homeless, where council has to match fund 10%, currently at €400,000 per annum.

'These rising costs are not being matched by increased income, and this is the reason why I requested an increase of 15% in the rate of Property Tax payable in County Louth for 2019. This would have increased our income by around €1.4 million.'

Councillors had voted against proposals to increase property tax at a previous meeting.

'In the absence of such an increase I have examined a wide range of options in relation to both expenditure cuts and income.

Among the cuts proposed were a 'substantial reduction' in the provision for Commercial rates write offs for vacant properties.

'We are also seeking to realign commercial rates across the entire county to a level of €60 in the €. Unfortunately I am not in a position to propose and reduction in the current rate in both Dundalk and Drogheda

She proposed increasing pay parking charges from the current €1 rate to €1.20 per hour in both Louth towns.

In addition a €1 a day fee would apply to all day parking car parks in Drogheda. This is expected to yield around €50,000 per year.

All day parking in Dundalk would remain at €2 per day.

The CEO added 'I am fully aware that many of these proposals are rather unpalatable' saying that she was working to avoid making cuts to areas such as Tidy Towns funding, library resources and festivals.

Councillors called for greater investment in pay parking machines which were described as 'barely working' to include options for payment including contactless and remote app.

Cllr. Mark Dearey said as far back as 2013 he had been calling for an upgrade to the pay parking network. He said that €1.8 million was to be set aside for upgrades.

He added that he felt the local authority were not finding ways to generate revenue.

The council heard that progress is being made, with the local authority set to go to tender on new pay parking machines which will include a range of payment options.

The new machines are expected to available over the next year, and it is hoped to co-ordinate the roll out with the works being done at Clanbrassil Street.

Cllr. Anne Campbell argued against an increase in pay parking to €1.20 in Dundalk, saying that 'just a few months away from Brexit it wouldn't have a good impact on the town centre.'

She asked the local authority to consider cuts to public conveniences in order to save costs, and highlighted the WC at Roden Place, which she said could be removed in order to reduce costs.

The council heard that the local authority were tied in to a contract with this, and that the majority of public toilets are on beach areas where there are no other facilities in the area. Public toilets are also part of the Blue Flag awards for County Louth beaches.

Cllr. Kenneth Flood said that he felt it showed 'bad faith to raise the issue of parking again in Drogheda, when it had only been settled a few weeks ago.'

Cllr. Paul Bell said he could not support the budget, because he felt 'local democracy is not being served.'

He added that he 'felt strongly' that the Drogheda councillors were being 'dictated to' by Louth County Council.

A number of councillors aired their criticism of the changes to local government which led to the abolition of town councils, and with few powers remaining with Municipal District Committees, the setting of pay parking rates was one of the last remaining areas they had control over.

The CEO told the meeting that if members were not in agreement with pay parking increases, they would have to find other alternatives to raise €500,000.

She added that her role in presenting a balanced budget to the council had been done, and it was now up to the members.

A vote on the draft budget was called, and after a roll call the members voted 19 against and seven in favour of adopting the budget, meaning that it had been rejected.

CEO Joan Martin said that the local authority had taken legal advice last year when a similar situation emerged.

She told members that legally they were not allowed to vote down a budget. She said they were entitled to make amendments to that which was presented, but they couldn't not pass a budget for the incoming year.

The members adjourned briefly, but were told they would have 14 days to pass a budget.

Failure to do so would lead to the intervention of the Minister.

The members agreed to meet again tomorrow (Wednesday) evening November 28th to look again at the budget

Drogheda Independent