Athlone Town Council and Westmeath County Council will spend €1.2m to clean up after the county’s citizens this year.
Figures revealed in this year’s town council budget show that in Athlone litter management and street cleaning cost €600,000, well above the cost of maintaining all the town’s local authority housing.
But it’s an avoidable cost, says director of services Hugh O’Reilly, who said Athlone’s litter is created by the citizens of Athlone. Speaking at Tuesday’s budget meeting he described the litter budget as a significant amount of money.
Mr O’Reilly said it has become increasingly difficult to bring litter under control and the cost could be avoided in total.
However the council is in a very difficult situation, he said, with those involved in illegal dumping more clever than ever, meaning that it’s difficult to find enough evidence to secure a prosecution for littering.
He described litter management as a core function of the local authority but said it’s an ongoing battle, and probably one the council will never win.
“We’ll try to keep it under control within the resources we have,” he told councillors.
Cllr Alan Shaw said the Tidy Towns committee would welcome the council’s €110,000 subvention and commended the committee’s work.
However, he said last summer’s results were less favourable than they would have liked.
He commended them for their huge voluntary effort and said the taxpayer is getting very good value for the money spent on Tidy Towns initiatives.
Cllr Mark Cooney seconded that support for the local organisation but said the people of the town will have to step up to the mark to report litter bugs and to follow up on that by appearing in court if necessary.
“It’s daunting no doubt,” he said, but added that “something has to be done”.
He was concerned that while the council anticipated receiving €6,000 in litter fines last year, the final total was just €1,100.
“We’re doing what we can but people are very clever,” he said of those who get away with littering.
Councillors were generally concerned at the lack of staff dealing with litter, and while they complimented the work done by the community wardens, said they are overwhelmed with work and responsibilities.
Acting county manager Barry Kehoe rejected Cllr Kevin Moran’s suggestion that staff employed by the council on a jobs initiative could be put in uniform to police the streets of the county for litter and dog fouling.
Mr Kehoe said the council cannot displace its own staff or displace people from the dole by using “people on a job initiative on very small wages”.
He said he will look to see if there is a way of appointing more staff to the role, but reminded Cllr Moran that the council has to work within its limits.