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Councillors approve draft €455k budget for Gorey-Kilmuckridge

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Wexford County Council Head of Finance Annette O'Neill.

Wexford County Council Head of Finance Annette O'Neill.

Cllr Joe Sullivan.

Cllr Joe Sullivan.

Cllr Willie Kavanagh

Cllr Willie Kavanagh

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Wexford County Council Head of Finance Annette O'Neill.

goreyguardian

The Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District has been allocated €455,000 for 2022 in the council’s draft budgetary plan. The figure, which is the same as last year, will go towards housing estate management, local roadworks, tourist facilities, litter control initiatives, community grants and a number of other areas specific to the district.

The total budget for county Wexford is €1,798,000, with the Wexford Borough receiving €400,000, Rosslare €252,000, Enniscorthy €358,000, and New Ross €333,000. 

Discussing the formation of the budget and how the money has been allocated across the districts, Head of Finance with Wexford County Council (WCC) Annette O’Neill told a special meeting of Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District last wednesday that this year’s budget “is set against a backdrop of huge uncertainty, in a lot of ways even more uncertain than it was in 2021”.

“Obviously the economy is starting to reopen but we don’t know what that’s going to be like post-pandemic or even as we transition through the remainder of the pandemic once government supports for businesses and local authorities are phased out and completely withdrawn,” she said.

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While the reopening of society over the summer has proved welcome for businesses and employers across the county the looming threat of the pandemic was something which couldn’t be ignored according to Ms O’Neill.

“Covid numbers rising again certainly won’t ease pressures or the challenges we face in 2022, all in all we’re still in a very unpredictable financial situation with added risks being presented by the winding down of government supports. Our budget for this year is definitely going to have to involve risks and challenges and a little bit of bravery in terms of assuming what’s going to happen. We’ve taken a prudent approach and we’re trying to strike a balance between managing the unpredictability of our financial situation and retaining provisions to maintain some level of normality.”

Although the Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District (GKMD) has received the largest sum out of the five county districts, Councillor Joe Sullivan noted that, in terms of its population and number of councillors, it actually fared worse than its neighbours.

“Compared to the others, and considering the population and the size of the area, our budget represents the lowest amount. We get €45,500 per member (ten councillors) while Enniscorthy gets €59,000 (six councillors),” he said.

“Some of the figures are allocated by members and some are done by population,” explained Ms O’Neill.

“It’s just an observation,” replied Cllr Sullivan. “Perhaps it’s something to bear in mind for future budgets, maybe there’ll be a bit more for us next year or the year after.”

The budget has been complicated by the loss of rates paid by businesses in the district and the supports issued by central government during the pandemic, and Cllr Willie Kavanagh asked when the council could expect to see this revenue stream return. 

“Do we have any idea when the commercial rates will be coming back on board, will it be January or later?” he asked. “That’s our main means of income and maybe councillors will have to consider helping out by introducing a 1-2 per cent increase in those rates. We’re going through a pandemic and I, for one, as a councillor don’t mind having to take an unpopular decision of increasing them if it would help out our financial situation and keep our services up to the standard we’re used to.”

Advising that rates couldn’t be altered until August of next year at the earliest, Ms O’Neill said rates had been coming back on stream “nearly from day one” and that only “tourism, leisure and sport” were getting waivers at the moment.

“We will now have to re-engage with businesses to get them back on rates,” she said. “At this point in time we have no information about a waiver into 2022. My understanding is all ratepayers and rates will be due as of January 1.”

With €125,000 of the budget allocated for festivals and concerts, Cllr Diarmuid Devereux asked whether, in the event of further restrictions, that money could be redistributed to other areas. 

“Over the last two years, we’ve had a very large surplus of money left over for festivals and other events which we found ourselves having to disperse at the end of the year,” he said. “We had a huge influx of additional requests last year from small community groups and parishes looking for €100-200 here and there as part of the amenity grant allocations, and a number of councillors found it difficult to be fair to everybody.

“Are we in a position to take an additional €4,000 per elected member from that (festival and concert) budget which would still leave a substantial amount of money based on the experience of this year and last, while at the same time giving us a chance to do a little bit more in our communities?” he asked. “The pandemic is not going in the direction we want it to go, and this is one area we could help our communities by increasing that allocation on on a one-off basis.”

Ms O’Neill said that money could be reallocated within the budget and pointed to the example of Enniscorthy councillors moving its allocation for town twinning into tourist facilities.

“You do have that discretion but I would caution against that because, assuming the economy does wake up, you will want money to support events and festivals and probably do them bigger and better because you haven’t had them in a couple of years. I would advise that you talk to the district manager and his team before you make that decision,” she said. 

Cllr Devereux’s suggestion was supported by Cllr Oliver Walsh who said his colleague made a “valid point”.

“We all see there is a shortfall every year with groups looking for amenity funding, and they’re all deserving causes,” said Cllr Walsh. “I would be a little worried about setting a precedent one year that you increase the amenity grant available you won’t be able to keep to it, but we should discuss this later in the year. We could definitely redirect the festival money if Covid is still preventing things from going ahead.”

Following the suggestion of Cathaoirleach Cllr Pip Breen that any decision be held over until March of next year, the draft budget was proposed and seconded by the council and will now go forward for finalisation.

The GKMD budget of €455,000 is distributed as follows: Housing and Building – Housing Estate Management €23,000; Roads Transport and Safety – Local Road General Improvement Works €90,000, Community Involvement Scheme €59,000; Development Management – Tourist Facilities Operations €4,000,  Town Twinning €5,000; Environmental Services – Litter control initiatives €10,000; Recreation and amenity – Community grants sports and recreational €60,000, Festivals and concerts €125,000; Agricultural, education, health and welfare: – School meals €9,000; Miscellaneous services – Local representation/civic leadership €10,000, General Municipal Allocation €60,000.


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