There was a backlash from the elected members of the West Mayo Municipal District at its monthly meeting this week, following a proposal that councillors ring fence some of their allocation from the General Municipal Allocation (GMA ) to provide match funding for capital projects in the area.
Independent Cllr Michael Holmes proposed that the budgeted €465,000 of the GMA be divided equally between the seven councillors - giving each councillor almost €66,500 for allocation to groups and projects over the year; the proposal was seconded by Fianna Fáil Cllr, Paul McNamara.
However, during the meeting it emerged that Mayo County Council might not be able to follow through on a number of capital projects it has applied for funding for, because it cannot come up with a match-funding element.
During a discussion on the issue, the head of the district for Mayo County Council, Padraig Walsh, said: "Just to note our view from the official side of the table, that we would see great value in retaining a portion of the GMA to be assigned to strategic projects, there is a great value to having a sum of money that we could assign to projects.
"There is a danger if the entire fund is divided between the members, that element of the use of the GMA may get lost. We would strike a note of caution, it is a vital part of what the GMA does and we would like to see it continue."
This suggestion was not well received by councillors with Achill based Fianna Fáil Cllr, Paul McNamara, saying: “I believe the money should be divided equally amongst the seven councillors. I get frustrated when you go on about matching funding and we should dip into the GMA to raise matching funding. We raised rates in the budget - which I was totally against and abstained from voting for. The rate payer is benefitting nothing as far as I am concerned from Mayo County Council.
"Now you are telling us that we should be taking money from the GMA to make matching funding. If Mayo County Council can not come up with matching funding for projects that in fairness to Minister Ring, he is putting through the county, they should not be dipping in to think that the GMA will do that. That GMA funding is to go around the communities, if we have to start thinking about capital funding out of GMA funding we are a sorrowful council."
Outlining the reasons for the council officials asking for some of the GMA to be ring fenced for projects, director of services for Mayo County Council, Catherine McConnell, stated: "In the last two to three years a whole range of schemes have been announced and they all require a local contribution, in the case of the marine grants it is 25 per cent.
"In the case of town and village renewal and rural regeneration, it is at least ten per cent of the overall cost, through things like property we own or cash, but not services, we can't put staff time or costs towards it.
"The GMA is a general municipal allocation, it is not necessarily a community fund; it is at the discretion of the district as to how you spend it. It can be on capital funds to leverage the kind of funding you are talking about, it can be on cultural things like in Ballina, where €30,000 was used to bring Other Voices to Ballina. That's an example of some of the projects it can be put towards.
"I would strongly request that some element of funding be ring fenced so that if projects come along and you say this is worth considering, it is good for town x or town y - as it will be good for the whole district. Unfortunately the issue of match funding won't go away and last year a certain amount of over-extension happened, because we didn't have match funding in the pots and we can't let it happen this year.
"We are putting out the notice early, that some kind of contribution will be sought before we put the projects in, so we don't lead to embarrassing the council in refusing grants or applications because we can't find match funding for them.”
Fine Gael Cllr Gerry Coyle asked: "Was there ever a case where an application wasn't put in from this area because there wasn't matching funding available?” and “If it is a thing there was no application made because of no matching funding I will erupt."
To which Ms McConnell responded: "Last year there were projects put forward under the rural regeneration and development fund, we have yet to receive notification if they were successful or not, but we don't know how we are going to match fund them."
Cllr Coyle then enquired: "Is there ever a project that ye didn't apply for that was announced by a Minister - that there was 85 per cent or 90 per cent funding for - because ye don't have €100k” to which the director replied: “I can't answer definitively, but last year as I said, we put them in but if they are successful, I don't know where we are going to find the money for them."