A county councillor has called on the Galway Local Government Review Committee to "put people first instead of always thinking about money.''
The comments from Independent representative Jim Cuddy follow the release of its report this week regarding the potential changes to Galway's local government structure.
The committee was formed following an announcement of a local government review in Galway by the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, earlier this year. There are widespread fears that the review will lead to a merger of the city and county councils, or a potential change to the city boundary.
The public is now being called on to make further submissions to the committee as to whether they believe the current system is the most appropriate to maximise service delivery and economic progress in Galway city and county over the next 20 - 30 years.
Over the past six months, committee members have met various stakeholders, reviewed their submissions, and familiarised themselves with international developments in delivering local government. They will meet city and county councillors over the coming weeks and a call has been made for the public to engage with the consultation process. Following this, the committee will recommend to the Minister the optimum structure for delivering local government to Galway city and county.
One of the most controversial aspects is the investigation into a possible of Galway city and county councils . It has been revealed that a number of submissions have already been received on this subject upon which the public hold strong views. The importance of democratic accountability at a local level, the uniqueness of Galway city, and the diversity of the county were themes raised in both written submissions and meetings with elected members and officials. It was suggested in a number of submissions that these factors militate against a possible merger of the two local authorities. The committee is again calling for further submissions on this topic.
Three city and county councils have merged in Ireland thus far - Tipperary, Limerick, and Waterford. The Galway review committee met senior management representatives from these three authorities, and the report says the general view of the executives appears to be that unification has been beneficial, despite some initial reservations. There have been some cost savings and further efficiencies with staff time freed due to the elimination of duplication of some activities, such as the need now for only one development plan, one annual report, one set of accounts, one audit, etc.
Potential boundary changes
Adjusting the existing boundaries between Galway city and county to maximise service delivery and economic progress is another option which has elicited much debate. In this option the city boundary would either be a more limited extension to incorporate Ardaun and Parkmore or a wider one incorporating areas including Barna and Oranmore.
The report reveals many of the submissions received to date note the existing excellent shared services arrangements that currently operate between the city and county. The two local authorities currently share fire and library services. The committee invites further submissions on the advantages an enhanced and extended radical shared services model could make in maximising service.
The report notes that there is a general trend in many OECD countries to reduce the number of local authorities. In Finland, they reduced from 452 to 339 authorities in the 2000s and current plans are to reduce down to some 70 municipalities. In 2007 the Danish government undertook a major reform, which reduced the number of authorities from 272 to 98. Proposals in Norway are to reduce from 428 to about 100.
Local Councillor Jim Cuddy is totally against a merger of the two local authorities or any potential changes to the boundary."It does not make any sense whatsoever economically or for administrative purposes. I have spoken to people in both areas, nobody wants this. City issues are totally different to county issues. You are talking about a whole different set of problems for both areas."
The Carnmore based representative also does not agree with any potential boundary changes. "The county cannot afford any erosion of our already struggling rates base. I would encourage everybody to engage with this consultation process and make their views heard. We as local representatives can see the problems that any of these decisions would cause.''
+Submissions to the Local Government Review Committee can be made until September 25 by e-mailing [email protected] or by post to The Secretariat, Galway Local Government Review Committee, c/o Galway City Council, City Hall, College Road, Galway.