Monday 10 December 2018

Council's finances are in the black for a third year

Sligo County Council has reported a revenue surplus of €2.4m for 2017, the second year in a row it has managed to make it into the black.

"The strong 2017 performance brings the combined surplus of the last three years to €5.2m and is a significant achievement", said Ciarán Hayes, Chief Executive, who acknowledged the contribution of both staff and members over recent years that led to the Council's improved standing.

At Monday's meeting of the Council however, he was quick to point to the distance yet to be travelled.

"Sligo's deficit of €21.4m, reduced from a high of €26.6 in 2014, is still very challenging and will require ongoing discipline, identification of further efficiencies and adoption of prudent budgets into the future", he said.

The Cathaoirleach Councillor Seamus Kilgannon welcomed the news, stating that it "was a remarkable achievement to deliver a surplus in successive years at a time when staff resources were seriously depleted."

Marie Whelan, Head of Finance, gave details of the various revenue streams, highlighting an increase in the commercial rate collection from a low of 59% in 2013 to 77% last year.

"The progress of recent years was maintained in 2017", she said, "and we are seeking to continue that progress with an 80% collection target this year".

She said the figures highlighted the efforts made by the vast majority of ratepayers and while she thanked them for their co-operation, she was anxious to stress the Council's willingness to work pro-actively with businesses to resolve remaining issues.

"We have had good outcomes where businesses engaged with us in the past and I would urge those that run into difficulty today to do the same," she said, adding that ignoring the problem only made it worse.

Progress was also maintained in the collection of Housing Loan repayments, where the collection increased from a low of 46% in 2014 to 61% last year.

She was keen to maintain that progress in 2018 with an expectation of an ongoing reduction in arrears.

Another major improvement was recorded in respect of Development Contributions, where arrears of €2.58m in 2014 were reduced to €1.2m in 2017, indicating a welcome resumption of activity in the construction sector.

The focus on finances threw up a number of other interesting initiatives and proposals including the development of Regional Training Centre at the Riverside Fire Station and the recouping of Council costs in respect of road traffic accidents.

Explaining the initiatives, Mr Hayes pointed to the strategic location of the Fire Station and of the opportunity for the Council to maximise its use and potential for training Fire Service personnel throughout the region.

With regard to the road traffic accidents, he said that the new policy had the advantage of releasing more funding for rural class 3 roads rather than the cost of accidents being absorbed by the Council.

Aside from these new initiatives, the Council is giving extra priority to some long standing revenue streams this year.

They include an overhaul of the Pay & Display Parking system where a Pay by Text service is to be introduced in late 2018 along with the installation of new generation Pay & Display machines and a renewed focus on the Social Housing rent collection with a view to reducing the arrears.

Sligo Champion