The intervention of the Government in funding Galway City Council played the key role in ensuring the city deficit is just a fraction of what it might have been, Galway City Council CEO Brendan McGrath said this week.
At one stage last Spring, it looked like the City Council was facing an end of year deficit in the realm of €20 million, but the expected deficit is now expected to be just €250,000.
Speaking in advance of the city council bidget meeting next week, Mr Mc Grath said that Galway was uniquely affected because of its high reliance on tourism, on hospitality, on footfall and the cultural sector.
Impact of Covid-19
The role of Covid in decimating the football in Galway City, coupled with the cancellation of the bulk of the Galway2020 Capital of Culture programme meant that the city and the Council did not reap any dividend from what should have been an outstanding year.
'In July 2019, in the last week of the Arts festival and the week before the Galway Races, our footfall monitors showed that there were 970,000 people in the city centre. This year, for the same week, the figure was just 150,000.
"Since the commencement of the reopening of the national economy during May 2020, at the end of the first COVID related lockdown, footfall counters in the city centre have typically recorded footfall at about 25% of normal levels. Unfortunately this trend has continued throughout the remainder of 2020.
"This impacted on business in the city and also on the revenue that the Council normally expected from car parking. It impacted on our venues like the Town Hall Theatre which had to lie empty for months.
"With that in mind though, the year, tough and all as it was, was not as bad as it could have been if we had not got the Government support with schemes like the rates waiver.
Vast programme of work
He went on to outline the vast programme of work included in the 2021 budget which will see the furtherance of the plans to construct the pedestrian bridges at the Salmon Weir (the CPO process of which is contained in a notice inside ) and across the Clifden Railway abutments where funding is already in place for the construction of a cycle/walkway to link the university with the city, but also as part of a potential Connemara greenway.
The city council Budget provides for expenditure of €102,540,409 which is an increase of €2,843,439 (2.8% ) on the 2020 budgeted figure of €99,696,970.
The proposed Draft Budget for 2021 has been compiled on a basis which does not include any proposed increases in Rates, Local Property Tax or increases in charges for services. The decision not to adjust the rate of local property tax was made by the Council at its meeting in September.
He said that while economic sentiment for 2021 is unknown, it is expected to exacerbated by the potential impact from a no deal Brexit and the very real challenges that this could cause for Irish and Galway exporting businesses to the United Kingdom and Continental Europe.
The challenges posed relate to potential tariffs and produce transiting through the UK to mainland Europe. Direct travel times from the west coast of Ireland to mainland Europe are also a concern.
Mr Mc Grath said that the Business Restart Grant scheme which was launched on 22nd May 2020. It was advertised extensively both nationally and locally as well as across social media. By mid-July 2020, Galway City Council had processed 1269 Applications for Restart Grants to a total Value of €5,158,065.
So far, more than €18 million has been distributed to local businesses and he said he was proud of the manner in which awareness of these schemes had been raised by the Council.
In total, funding of €18,294,217 has been received to date from the DBEI/Enterprise Ireland
There has been welcomed for the proposal that rates and property tax will remain unchanged, given the circumstances that city businesses find themselves in.
Galway City Council’s annual Rateable Value (ARV ) is currently €67.40. The rate in the euro has remained unchanged since 2016.
The council has not varied the rate of LPT since the introduction of the tax in 2014. The Council determined at its Ordinary City Council meeting on 14th September 2020 that the rate of LPT will also not be varied in 2021.
2021 is set to be another busy one for the City Council with a decision from An Bord Pleanala on the plan to construct the N6/Galway City Ring Road due in early summer and with the final phase of Kirwan Roundabout upgrade works scheduled for completion.
He is also hopeful that following informal periods of consultation, that the BusConnects – Both the Cross City Link and Dublin Road Bus Corridor will be submitted to An Bord Pleanala for planning.
He is hopeful too that the Salmon Weir Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge submitted to An BP for PP, can go to design, tendering and fabrication process to proceed with the instalation to proceed in mid 2022.
The Council has an ambitious housing plan in train to include the construction of new local authority housing, a major retrofitting programme, and the return to use of more than 80 void homes.
He also spoke of plans to work in tandem with Traveller groups to construct culturally appropriate housing; as well as continue with interagency efforts to combat the issue of homelessness in the city.
The Budget also incoudes an anticipated reduction in fees from Pay and Display parking are estimated to reduce parking income by €900k and promises that there not any increases in parking charges in 2021.
The City Council meet next week to debate the Budget. Full report in next week's Advertiser.