With Christmas lights soon to have an illumination impact in the towns and villages across the county, the affording of relevant grants towards their erection and maintenance was the pertinent topic of conversation during the November meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District.
As part of the 2019 budget process, €60,000 was provided for town and village Christmas lights with Athlone being afforded a sum of €26,250 in this instance.
Noting that the sum allocated to Moate had been reduced from that allocated in 2018 (from €1,000 to €750 ), Fine Gael Councillor, Tom Farrell, expressed his dissatisfaction with the figure listed, a sentiment which was echoed by Fianna Fáil Councillor, Vinny McCormack.
“Why has the sum allocated to Moate been reduced? Surely, they are entitled to receive a similar amount to what was afforded to the community in 2018,” Cllr. Farrell stressed.
Acknowledging that Athlone, as a designated growth town, should be afforded a large amount towards the Christmas light display, Cllr. John Dolan stated that each town and village throughout the county were entitled to have an attractive Christmas faced during the festive season.
“This is an opportunity to afford some economic benefit to our rural towns and villages,” Cllr. Dolan remarked.
Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, noted that there had been much public apathy pertaining to the festive lights display in Athlone in 2018, a scenario which would be rectified courtesy of the endeavours of the Athlone Festival & Events Group who have united with the purpose of enhancing the town’s Christmas display, having attained relevant funding from LEADER in this regard. Athlone Chamber of Commerce is also actively contacting the local business community for up to €25,000 in financial support for this project, while Westmeath County Council have provided €25,000 from the local authority’s business fund.
Returning to the topic, Cllr. Tom Farrell, requested that €5,000 be reduced from the allocation afforded to Athlone and be distributed accordingly to the seventeen rural towns and villages across the county to enable enhancement of their Christmas lights displays.
Cllr. Louise Heavin concurred, stressing that there was a need to focus on rural towns and villages and not just solely focus on “one big town”.
Noting that Athlone was the main economic driver within the county, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, acknowledged that the Christmas lights sum allocated to the town was befitting of its growth status.
Concurring, Cllr. Frankie Keena, stated that a powerful festive lighting display had the potential to attract those with shopping intent from within a fifty to sixty mile radius which would economically benefit the town over the Christmas period.
The dispersal of an unallocated figure of €53,500 (included in the Municipal District draft budgetary plan for 2020 ) to make up the Christmas lights financial shortfall, but in conclusion it was decided amongst the local authority representatives and executive to reduced the amount allocated to Athlone by €2,250, distribute €1,250 towards the Moate Christmas lights cause with the balance of €1,000 to be accordingly afforded to rural towns and villages to enhance their respective festive displays.