With the new year creeping around the corner it was budget time for the local authorities in Mayo over the past week. Mayo County Council will meet this afternoon (Friday ) at 2pm to finalise its budget for the next year, while the three town councils in the county have wrapped up their budget proceedings, with Ballina leading the way by cutting their rateable valuation by one per cent for 2009, and Castlebar and Westport were able to hold off any rate increase for the new year.
Ballina — 100k cut
In Ballina the council management had initially sought a two per cent rate increase as was outlined in town manager Paddy Mahon’s report, however the council members then came back to the executive with a plan for a two per cent cut in the rate. After an evening where a number of adjournments were called by both the elected members and the executive a rate reduction of one per cent was agreed following a number of cuts in spending and the readjustment of the increased income from two areas. The rateable valuation for 2009 will be 65.9, down from 66.57 in 2008.
Town manager Paddy Mahon told the members that “This is not something that we expected or anticipated ahead of this meeting, but I accept that it is a reflection on the representations that you are getting from the rate payers in the town.” He also issued a word of caution that this rate reduction will be a tough ask for the council, saying, “This will be a significant challenge and I just hope that we are up to it.” The councillors, after discussions, came up with a plan to cut €100,000 from the budget to allow the rate cut. The amended budget will see €25,000 being cut from the budget which was pencilled in for the provision of CCTV cameras, €5,000 from the allocation to Leigue burial ground, €10,000 from the shop front scheme funding, €7,500 from the public lighting budget, €15,000 from the local area action plans, and €10,000 from the Ballina promotional fund. They also cut the foreign travel budget from €6,500 to zero for the year, the town improvement scheme by €2,500, and they cut €2,500 from the budget which had been earmarked for contributions to other bodies. The members also adjusted the income the council expects to receive from car parking charges up by €2,500 and from litter fines up another €3,000 so they could reduce the rate.
Castlebar — parking charges to increase
In Castlebar the town council management executive had suggested a 1.75 per cent increase on the rateable valuation for commercial premises in the town of 73.45 which was adopted for 2008. The members were able to adopt the zero per cent increase despite adding €93,579 on to the draft budget at the meeting table, with an addition to expenditure on community grants and a reduction in the income to the town council from rented property. The drop in income from housing rents came about with an increase in disregard for town council tenants who are on the differential rent scheme from €16 to €21, while the council approved an additional €32,500 to be given to community groups in the town.
They were able to offset these changes along with a zero per cent rate increase by approving the increase of the parking charges for both on-street and council controlled car parks in the town. Parking charges for on-street parking in the town will rise from 60c per hour to €1 per hour and from 30c per hour to 60c per hour in the car parks. The council also approved the removal of the zoning system in the town which had previously existed. This system stopped people using the same ticket to park in different areas in the town even if there was still time left to run on the ticket.
The increase in the parking charges is expected by the council management to bring an extra €128,579 into the council’s coffers for the year. Town manager Seamus Granahan welcomed the budget and told the members that “This is a very progressive sign for Castlebar as a town.”
He also told the members that he planned to use any extra income generated by the increase in charges to fund the development of a new car parking facility at the back of St Patrick’s Avenue. “The council owns a long strip of land there and we would like to see that turned into a new car parking facility for the town, which could be dedicated to long stay parking, which would in turn free up the spaces in the car parks at Market Square and Castle Street, for people who need to park for a shorter time in the town centre.”
Westport — councillors cull their expenses
Following Wednesday afternoon’s Westport Town Council meeting a zero per cent increase in rates was negotiated by councillors who were discontent with a proposed two per cent increase in the town’s rates as set out in the manager’s report, with each member expressing a strong desire for no rate increase.
This had to be achieved through reducing proposed expenditure by a total of €67,775 — €57,775 in reducing the rates by two per cent and €10,000 in additional marketing and promotion of the town. An increase in the promotion of the town was at the forefront of the councillors’ agenda as, according to Councillor Tereasa McGuire, the town’s “lifeblood is tourism”.
Westport town councillors were unanimous that the onus should be on them in leading the way in budget cuts, and they slashed members’ expenses for study trips and entertainment by €5,000 in each case and removed €7,500 from members’ conference expenses.
The cost of the review of the town’s development plan was reduced by €15,000 and the purchase of machinery was cut by €9,000. Environmental improvements of €19,775 were deferred until 2010 and €1,500 was cut from the municipal art collection.
Predicted generated income from car parking charges in the town was increased by €5,000, which allowed the books to be balanced, keeping Westport rates at 66.50.
The astronomical rents in the town was one issue which was flagged throughout the meeting as being a hindrance to businesses surviving and was, according to the town manager, Peter Hynes, an important topic which is a lot more influential to the sustainability of local businesses than the “modest” town’s rates.
Mr Hynes concluded that the adopted budget was “fair” but added that it “would be a challenge to deliver”.