Following 12 hours of debate on Monday last Mayo County Council adopted a budget worth €131,952,449 for the year. The big talking point of the debate among the 31 councillors was the proposal by the council executive to increase water charges to non domestic customers by 10 per cent, an increase that was criticised by members from both sides of the house. Following much negotiation, the adopted budget will see an increase of 6.25 per cent in water charges for year, which was proposed by Fine Gael party whip Councillor Joe Mellet and seconded by party colleague Cllr Eddie Staunton.
However the proposal to increase the charges at all had to be put to a vote following a counter proposal by Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan not to increase water charges for non-domestic customers.
Under Cllr Mellett’s proposal Mayo County Council would find the €150,000 that it needed through financial costs, operational savings, and buoyancy in the water services budget. Cllr Ryan’s proposal to have no increase in the charges at all left the council needing to find another €375,000 to cover the costs of no increase in charges in the budget.
County manager Peter Hynes informed Cllr Ryan that legislation dictated the money had to be found in the water services budget only, not the budget as a whole and that the money was not there.
When the motion was put to a vote, the count was 19 in favour of the original motion to increase the water charges by 6.25 per cent and 11 against, with one absence.
Following the meeting, Cllr Mellett described Cllr Ryan’s counter-proposal as “a load of codswallop”.
“It was a load of codswallop,” he told the Mayo Advertiser. “I would also question the county secretary putting it to a vote. We had spent 12 hours debating and looking for savings where we could, and did as well as we could. Cllr Ryan suggested we take €200,000 from here and €200,000 from there with no rationale of where the money would come from. If he had brought these ideas up at any stage before then, they could have been looked at but they weren’t.”
Cllr Ryan however told the Mayo Advertiser that his idea was very simple. “Our view all along was that there should be no increase in the water charges. The savings were there to be made, if we just took the money from the operational costs of the public water system and the public sewerage system we could have saved the money. If you’re in business today, you have to cut your costs by 20 per cent to 25 per cent or you won’t stay in business, that’s why I told them they’re not living in the real world.”
While the motion put Cllr Ryan and his party colleagues on the side of voting against any increase in water charges, Cllr Mellett does not believe that the Fianna Fáil councillors en block supported the idea. “It may have been a political point scoring exercise, but I don’t think it worked. He may have had the vote of his party colleagues on the issue, but I don’t think that he had their support.”
Cllr Mellett added that while the rise of 6.25 per cent will be a blow to struggling business around the county, it is essential to fund future much-needed development of water service infrastructure in the county. “If we just look at the schemes planned to go ahead, they will cost in the region of €70 million, and the council has to fund their portion of the polluter pays principle which would be between €22 and €25 million. Whatever chance much needed schemes in the like of Belmullet and Foxford have now, they would have had no chance if there was no increase or money on the table.”