County divided over impending December budget

Councillors across Westmeath are divided as how best to allocate the 2015 county budget which is due to be decided later this year.

At this week’s Athlone Municipal District meeting councillors were presented with a proposed General Municipal Allocation (GMA ) in accordance with legislation, this being the first year of he revised budget process. However there was much debate over the provisional figures which many councillors were unhappy with.

At the meeting Cllr Frankie Keena warned that a possible north Westmeath/south Westmeath divide could emerge from this new process.

Under this new process the two municipal districts of Athlone and Mullingar-Coole/Mullingar-Kilbeggan must meet with the executive to go through the GMA ahead of the full county council budget meeting in December. However the county’s draft budget has yet to be completed and figures may be different from those of the GMA.

“It feels a little bit like we’re putting the cart before the horse,” noted Cllr Aengus O’Rourke.

Councillors were unhappy with how the discretionary fund would be divided out, with Athlone receiving 49 per cent and Mullingar receiving 51 per cent.

Cllr John Dolan highlighted that the GMA was based on Athlone Town Council’s previous budget; however the new municipal areas mean that Moate and surrounding townlands are now included in the Athlone Municipal District. “This process [GMA] would be much more useful after the budget was set out,” he said.

Cllr ‘Boxer’ Moran added that having such a presentation on the agenda of the monthly meeting was unfair. “It’s unfair, we should be given a half day for a proper meeting. It’s wrong for the executive to put this to us like this.”

Head of Finance, Jimmy Dalton reassured councillors that the council had given them seven days notice of the GMA meeting, and they cannot adjourn the meeting for another day. “I understand the process is the wrong way round and it’s a challenge to present something like this to you, but we’re following legislation,” he added.

Cllr Dolan proposed that councillors note the figures and meet again unofficially as seven councillors withoutthe executive to discuss the GMA ahead of the December statutory budget meeting.

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