Unchanged rates will only provide one sixth of Westmeath’s expenditure

Some seasonal cheer was offered in the council chamber this week (December 17 ) when it was revealed commercial rates in Westmeath would remain unchanged for a fifth year in a row.

Rates account for less than one sixth (16.5 per cent ) of the cost of running the county, with regular taxpayers having to provide the balance.

A little over €10m must be levied from the businesses of Westmeath in 2013 to provide towards the €61.1m it is estimated it will take to run the county next year, according to the figures released in the 41-page breakdown of the finances. Next year’s figure is down 18 per cent on the biggest budget in Westmeath’s history in 2007, when it took just under €75 million to operate the council.

That year also saw a capital programme of €150 million for the county, with the NRA’s M6 accounting for €76 million of that.

Since then prudent management, natural wastage, and the recruitment moratorium has seen the annual cost of the Lake County drop to €67m in 2011, and again to €64.1m last year.

“The primary objectives of the 2013 budget are to remain free of overdraft ... and to maintain funding and support to the [110] community groups whose assistance is vital to the development and prosperity of the county,” said county manager Danny McLoughlin.

He also highlighted how the moratorium on recruitment, an increasing age profile of staff, 22 retirements in the last three years, coupled with a further anticipated 32 over the next five years was “clearly unsustainable”, and will have to be addressed in the coming years.

At present, with just under 600 staff, the council is the biggest employer in the county.

The two more contentious cuts in this budget are the downgrading of services at the area offices in Castlepollard and Kilbeggan, whose continued opening he described as “economically unjustifiable”.

From next year neither office will have a direct service delivery role in housing, planning, or water services.

However, both towns will maintain their libraries, and a small amount of back office - not public - work. Castlepollard will have an online terminal made available for motor tax renewal.

 

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