The three town councils in Mayo faced into what will possibly be their last budgets over the past two weeks. However at both the Castlebar Town Council and Ballina Town Council budget meetings the issue of starting the review of the towns’ development plans and the costs associated with them has caused a lot of debate this week.
In Castlebar Town Council, a total of €80,000 spread out evenly over the next two years will be spent on the start of the production of a new plan. While in Ballina councillors have yet to adopt a budget but the draft budget has planned to put aside €15,0000 this year. This will bring the total the council has put aside for development plans to around the €160,000 mark. The Westport Town Council budget has provided for €15,000 this year for development plans.
A number of councillors raised questions at both Castlebar Town Council’s and Ballina Town Council’s budget meetings this week about why they were pumping money into these plans when the councils will not be around to see them completed. At the Castlebar Town Council budget meeting, Independent councillor Frank Durcan questioned what had happened under the last plan and why the council should invest such a large sum of money in such tough economic times when the council will be wound up. At the Ballina Town Council budget meeting, Independent councillor Mary Kelly expressed similar concerns saying, “I don’t see the point of the development plan for this council when it’s going to be abolished anyway. We have €160,000 put aside for this, I’m sure I and the other councillors can all think of better ways that we can spend that money.”
The response from the town managers in both towns was that the councils still have a legal responsibility in law to start the work on their plans and there is no way around it. Acting Ballina town manager Paul Benson even expressed sympathy with the councillors’ position saying, “There’s a part of me that agrees with you on this. But it’s the law and I will have to comply with the law, it’s my job to do so.”
At the Castlebar budget meeting Cllr Durcan said: “It’s bureaucracy gone mad this is, a few changes to the existing plan and it’d be fine.” His fellow Castlebar councillor, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne asked whether the council could just readopt the current plan for the time that was left for the council’s existence. However, Castlebar town manager Seamus Granahan told the meeting that it was not possible. In Westport the current development plan will run until 2016, in Ballina it is due to run until 2015, both after the planned expiration of the town councils, while the Castlebar plan is due to expire in 2014.