The budget 2014, with a projected expenditure of €80.5 million for the coming year, was adopted at a special meeting of the Galway City Council last Friday.
Following a lengthy debate on the various aspects of the draft budget a number of proposed amendments, put forward by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and Independent councillors, was passed with 10 in favour and five abstentions. Proposed amendments put forward by the Labour Party councillors group was defeated following a vote.
The decisions of the council include retaining commercial rates at 2013 level, no increase in other local charges, and €50,000 of the road’s budget to be ring fenced for the Barcelona Declaration project which facilitates local authorities in creating a more inclusive society.
Changes to proposed expenditure included: An increase in councillors’ notice of motion monies from €33,000 to €198,000; increase in grant to Badoiri An Cladaigh by €5,000 to €15,000; increase in Community Sports Club Grants by €50,000 to €120,000; making a provision of €25,000 for Menlo Castle repairs/conservation; provision of €25,000 for extension of lighting on the Salthill Promenade; provision of €20,000 for the Shantalla Neighbourhood Park; increase in matching funding for Capital Sports Scheme by €25,000 to €75,000; increase in grant to Threshold by €5,000 to €25,000; increase in contribution to Galway Mountain Rescue by €7,500 to €10,000; provision of €8,000 grant to Galway Macron International Cup; provision of CCTV in Walter Macken, Suan, and Whitehall - €50,000; provision of €10,000 for Bohermore Community Project; and provision of €7,900 for the establishment of a Social Inclusion Grant scheme.
These provisions are to be funded by an increase in the Local Government Fund (€126,429 ), an increase in income receivable in NPPR (non principal private residence ) arrears (€55,000 ), a decrease in subvention to Leisureland (€50,000 ), and a decrease in funding for refurbishment of the council chamber to accommodate three additional councillors in 2014 (€50,000 ).
Presenting the draft budget to the councillor city manager Brendan McGrath said that at a time when the national coffers are down €2.8 billion Galway City Council has retained its services. Describing the budget as positive he highlighted how for the fourth consecutive year in a row the commercial rates have not been increased and that there will be no increase in parking or other local charges.
“The budget will stand up to scrutiny and is fit for purpose,” said Mr McGrath, who acknowledged that there were challenges ahead for the council as the local economy remains depressed, which then has a knock-on effect for revenue. Census figures show that Galway has a population of 75,000 and is growing by 1,000 people per year. The influx of students every September adds another 25,000 people which, although very welcome, does put extra pressure on the city’s services.
“As as council we have been struggling to provide some services. Staff numbers are down by more than 20 per cent, about 100 people less than four years ago, yet we are still providing the same services. We have to seek to be more efficient but there is a limit. We have to remember the council’s function is to serve the city and improve the quality of life of the people here. We need to improve the reputation of the council, be honest with the people about what we can and are able to do,” said Mr McGrath, who praised the council staff as being “second to none”, in particular the “energy and commitment” shown during the recent storm.
Many of the councillors praised Mr McGrath and the council executive for listening to their concerns, something, as Cllr Michael Crowe, noted was reflected in a budget that would be difficult to criticise. Echoeing this Cllr Billy Cameron added: “This is a budget for a listening manager who has a vision”.
Cllr Terry O’Flaherty particularly lauded the provision of €50,000 for the control of horses. The draft budget document noted that the 2013 allocation had not been sufficient to cover the costs involved in control and impounding of horses. The council has also agreed to collaborate with the Galway Traveller Movement in undertaking a feasibility study on a horse project for the city that will focus on animal stabling, care and welfare, and also training in equine-related skills.
Representing the views of the business community Cllr Niall McNelis said that no increase in commercial rates is welcome. He also called for the free parking initiative that was carried out in November to be repeated and improved on. He added that the budget was very solution based as well as being “pro-business and pro-jobs”.