Galway loses in battle of council budgets

County council in limbo

County Galway residents are facing shortfalls in services due to funding issues.

Connemara councillor Tom Welby says the council cannot operate properly with the current amount of funding it receives from central government.

A small budget, staff shortages, and the prospect of amalgamation with the city council is causing the council to simply "tread water" says Cllr Welby.

"We have an issue with staff numbers. We have a small budget and with a small budget you will have small staff numbers. When you have small staff numbers, the council cannot function to its best. You can only do the bare minimum of what is required because staff are stretched. It is a vicious circle.

"It causes frustration for my colleagues and myself. It causes frustration for the people of Galway, and it causes frustration for the staff in the county council on the basis we are here to serve the people, and we are unable to carry out the job you want and were voted to do.

“Some sections in the council are under extreme pressure in relation to staff numbers. If you do not have budgets you do not have a return."

Cllr Welby says the proposed amalgamation with the city council is making the task to secure more funding harder.

At present only two directors of services in the county council are permanent directors with five directors acting.

"The discussion of the amalgamation of Galway city and county councils has left the county council in limbo for a long period. The council cannot operate to its full potential until the future of it has been sorted and we hoped it will be finalised soon."

The Independent councillor says Mayo, a smaller county with a smaller population, is doing better than Galway in terms of resources and funding.

"At the end of 2014, Galway had 740 staff yet Mayo had 928 staff, despite the fact that Galway is a bigger county with a bigger population. We have a population that is 40,000 more yet nearly 200 less staff and €21 million less for a budget.

"The question has to be asked of the Department in relation to the criteria for local authority funding. Is it based on population? When looking at Galway and Mayo and even Donegal it clearly is not. Is it based on the the size of the country? Is it based on the road network in the county?"

Cllr Welby also highlighted changes in 2015 to the general purpose grant which councils received.

"In 2008 Galway County Council was getting over €30 million from a general purpose grant. In 2015 we received just over €12 million, so we were down by €18 million. This grant was funded by the the motor tax before it was in effect replaced by the local property tax. We collect €14 million from local property tax.

We have to give back 20 per cent of that back to the Government in relation to an equalisation fund and out of that we get €1.1 million.

"There are 19 local authorities who get money from this equalisation fund. If we look at Donegal, last year they got back over €12 million from the equalisation fund whereas Galway County Council only received over a million. Donegal's budget is a €132 million and ours is €104 million."

Councillor Joe Byrne says the Galway county council needs to ensure it gets its fair share of funding from the Government, and cited the introduction of the finance committee in the county council as a step to address the shortfall of funding.

"We have set up our own finance committee at the council set up to identify and analyze the council's income and expenditure streams. It is intended that we will have a good handle in a short space of time from where the shortfall is coming and hopefully it is addressed."

"We must look at the council internally to make sure we are collecting all the revenue we can and then we can go to the Government and make sure we get our fair share of funding."

When contacted the Department of Housing, Planning, Community, and Local Government was unable to clarify the criteria for local authority funding.

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