The Galway city and county councils are the most "grossly underfunded" local authorities in the State, but amalgamating them into one body will only "significantly worsen" an already chronic "underfunding situation".
This is the view of Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish, who said the proposed amalgamation of the local authority bodies by 2019 - which was recommended in the Government commissioned Report of the Galway Local Government Committee, and which is opposed by the vast majority of city and county councillors - should "not proceed under the current funding model".
Speaking in the Dáil, during a debate on the National Planning Framework's impact on rural Ireland, Dep Grealish said Galway was "bottom of the pile" in terms of funding when compared to similar sized counties, such as Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, and Tipperary.
“As it stands, Galway's local authorities are vastly underfunded," he said. "Galway County Council has the highest population, the lowest staff complement, the lowest budget per capita of population, and the lowest rates base. Yet Galway County makes the largest contribution to the LPT Equalisation fund, and aside from Kerry, Galway is the lowest recipient of Equalisation fund allocations."
He said the situation would not be improved by amalgamation as the budget per capita of population would still be the lowest of the five comparable counties, at approximately €684 per capita.
Dep Grealish also alleged that the ongoing budget has had a direct impact on services. He noted that of the seven main personnel in Galway County Council at present, five are in acting roles, as permanent positions "cannot be filled due to lack of funding and uncertainty regarding the potential amalgamation". This, in turn, is prohibiting the taking of "major decisions".
He also said that Galway County Council's planning office had just "half the staff of the Mayo County Council planning office" but were processing double the number of planning applications.
However, Dep Grealish said the amalgamation may have "some merit" in terms of strategic planning and economies of scale for shared services. He added that with the improvement in the economy over recent years, increased funding was being provided to State agencies, and as a result, local authorities "must get their fair share".
“No proposed amalgamation will be successful unless improved and adequate funding is provided by the Government," said Dep Grealish. "A clear funding model for each new authority must be provided before any further amalgamation proceeds."