The starting gun has officially gone off in the Westmeath 2014 Local Elections with councillors anxious to secure gritting on rural roads at the annual county council budget meeting which was held this week.
However, the estimated €50,000 cost of gritting these extra roads this year will bring the bill for gritting to half a million euro, with the extra funds coming out of existing road maintenance budgets.
Extra gritting will come at the expense of mending potholes and verges and other regular maintenance work across the county.
The election campaign started with Cllr Paddy Hill who declared he wouldn’t leave Monday’s meeting without an assurance that the Castlepollard-Finea road be gritted because of the large number of accidents which happen there in frosty weather.
It follows an incident during the Christmas holidays where an articulated lorry skidded and turned over, and a car went into the bog, meaning council staff spent the entire day trying to clear the road, he said.
It would be cheaper, Cllr Hill said, to grit the road regularly than deal with such one-off emergencies. He said the council only hears about the accidents which make the news while he is regularly helping drivers haul cars from the bog.
It was lucky that the driver hadn’t been killed and the council has a duty of care to people who use the busy road.
Cllr Ken Glynn reminded the executive that he was promised a review of gritting procedures last year but it didn’t happen. He repeated his concern about the lack of gritting around schools, particularly at Gainstown.
Cllr Colm Arthur said that if gritting was on the agenda he couldn’t let the meeting pass without making a pitch for the R400 between Mullingar and Rochfortbridge, which covers the Gainstown area.
Cllr Johnny Penrose insisted on gritting for the R390 from Mullingar through Ballyncargy - which he described as one of the busiest roads in the country with four schools.
Acting county manager Barry Kehoe advised councillors to come up with a gritting policy at SPC level and said it was unlikely the councillors would choose roads to stop gritting as part of a review.
“You’re talking about adding roads,” he said, pointing out that it’s not feasible to grit the entire county.
Cllr Hill insisted on action and said he couldn’t see there’d be much extra cost.
He suggested that the cost of the recent Finea incident to the council was probably more than the council’s entire gritting budget. An extra €10,000 would go a long way he said, before hearing from Hugh O’Reilly that the county spent €452,000 on gritting last year.
Cllr Hill and his colleagues agreed that their roads will be added to the gritting schedule with the cost to come from the relevant area’s maintenance budget.
Before the meeting was over, Cllrs Glynn and Arthur had taken to social media to announce the new gritting arrangements.