The topic of parking charges took up more than two hours of this week's Mayo County Council meeting — despite the fact the full council has no say in changing the status quo.
Any change to the current arrangements to parking charges in the county can only be made by the four municipal districts on a local level. That did not stop a lengthy and forceful debate, where one councillor said that if parking meters were put in place in his town they would end up in the river.
At last year's budget meeting the proposal put forward by the Fianna Fáil and Independent alliance — which controls the power in the council — included taking in an extra €400,000 this year in car parking charges. This proposal was adopted by the council.
The proposals put forward by the council executive outlined where they intended to take in the budgeted for figure, which included introducing parking charges into eight towns — Ballyhaunis, Belmullet, Charlestown, Crossmolina, Foxford, Kiltimagh, Knock, and Swinford — along with the introduction of on street parking charges in Westport.
Fine Gael whip Cllr Jarlath Munnelly said the council was only in this situation because the budget adopted by the FF/Independent alliance also included a 7.5 per cent rates increase for businesses; however he was swiftly rebuked by Fianna Fáil whip Cllr Damien Ryan who pointed out that the alternative budget proposed by Fine Gael at the time did not balance, according to the council executive.
Despite almost all of the councillors who spoke at the meeting being in agreement that any changes to the current situation would not happen, the debate was littered with inter-party points scoring.
The only two councillors who spoke in any way in favour of the implementation of new parking charges were Independent councillors Michael Kilcoyne and Gerry Ginty. The two councillors represent Castlebar and Ballina where pay-and-display parking has been in operation for a number of years.
Cllr Kilcoyne said that he received many complaints from the public and business people, but it was a very long time since he got one about having to pay for parking. Cllr Ginty said it was a fairytale that rural decline was because of a 30c or 40c parking charge, it was down to spineless politicians from both major parties.
The decision to bring in new parking charges or amend the ones currently in place will be made by the councillors in the four municipal areas — where only they have the power to enact the bye-laws.
If the municipal districts do not implement the proposed changes the €400,000 shortfall in the budget will have to be found somewhere else, the council's head of finance, Peter Duggan, told the members. Mr Duggan said he had to ensure that the budget balances at the end of the year, and he reminded the members that the adopted budget balanced because of the presumption of €400,000 in extra parking charges.