Just under six and half hours into the second day of deliberations over the Mayo County Council's budget for next year, the whip of the controlling Fianna Fáil and Independent axis, Cllr Damien Ryan, got to his feet to get the real business under way. After around 15 hours of presentations and questions, over the previous Monday and then again last Friday, Cllr Ryan was ready to propose a budget for adoption with a few amendments to what had been proposed by the council executive.
The key issue in the debate over the two meetings was the equalisation of the commercial rate for business in the towns of Westport and Ballina with the rest of the county. Fianna Fáil's Cllr Brendan Mulroy and Independent Cllr Christy Hyland had railed against the increase of commercial rates in Westport, where they are both from. However with little support from councillors, in their own grouping, from other areas where businesses were already paying the same level of commercial rates as was proposed for the two former town council areas, they faced an uphill battle.
Both men spoke about not being able to support the budget as it included a rates rise for the towns, but when the crunch came the budget as proposed by Cllr Ryan, with rates equilisation included, was passed. The two were saved from having to vote directly on Cllr Ryan's proposed budget by Fine Gael whip Cllr Jarlath Munnelly, who put forward a counter proposal that also included a rate equilisation, but a massive increase in the General Municipal Allocation for each of the four Municipal Districts in the county. This was something that every councillor has been calling for, but the increase was never possible to fund with the adjustments proposed by Fine Gael, according to the council executive.
Under the rules of the council, it was the Fine Gael counter proposal that was put to the vote and when it fell 14-11, with Seamus Weir abstaining from the vote (four councillors were absent — Fine Gael's Cllr Cyril Burke and Cllr Teresa McGuire, Fianna Fáil's Cllr Annie May Reape, and Independent Cllr Frank Durcan — the budget as proposed by Cllr Ryan was deemed to have been passed, saving them both from having to vote directily for the proposal put forward by their grouping in the council, and possible expulsion from the group if they voted against it.