Westmeath County Council has reduced its staff by 75, and is aiming to substantially reduce or eliminate all overtime in a bid to keep its payroll costs low.
The council has cut salaried staff from 293 to 243 since the beginning of 2008, while the number of hourly paid staff has fallen from 218 to 193. This is “a difficult process for management and equally difficult for the people involved”, according to the council’s head of finance Jimmy Dalton who presented a revenue report at Monday’s council meeting.
The council also aims to reduce its payroll costs, which increased significantly due to overtime during the severe weather conditions experienced in the first four months of this year.
County manager Dan McLoughlin said that while overtime costs had already been halved in the past 18 months, the council’s overtime bill for the first 15 weeks of the year amounted to €398,657, compared with €238,153 for the same period in 2009.
The council is projecting that the cost of overtime for this year will amount to €830,000, which is about €75,000 greater than 2009, and says it will continue to focus on this area of cost “with a view to its elimination and/or reduction wherever possible”.
“Overtime is running to €800,000, which has been halved but is still a substantial amount. We have to balance what the public expect with what we can afford. There are ways of reducing the bill but we have to do this in consultation with the unions,” said Mr McLoughlin.
Cllr Frank McDermott said he was surprised to learn of the large reduction in staff numbers, and that “service delivery is as good as it has ever been”.
“I feel there is a serious pride in our staff that we haven’t seen in a long time. There is a greater interest in our customers,” he said.
Meanwhile Cllr Paddy Hill was hopeful that in the future the council could begin to increase its employee count again.
“The staff reduction is quite significant and I very much regret that. To many people the council has been a place of employment. The council has to accept the guidelines of the Government, but I would hope in the future to see if it is possible to start to employ more people. People are prepared to work for less money than in the past, and if there is a huge reduction in staff, services are going to suffer,” he said.
The county manager added that the staff effort has been exemplary, and that he hoped to make a presentation to councillors in January on council staff and customer service.