Following months of discussion, culminating in an intense two-hour debate at Monday’s meeting, local councillors voted this week to discontinue Westmeath County Council’s involvement in waste collection services in the county.
However, in light of a recommendation by the council executive that the waste collection waiver scheme also be discontinued, an inter-party committee is to be established to examine the possibility of maintaining the scheme for low income families and individuals.
In an unusual move, the council’s Fine Gael and Fianna Fail members banded together to approve the recommendation of the report from the council executive that the council cease providing a bin collection service, while Labour councillors abstained from voting after their suggestion to defer a decision until the December budget was rubbished by others in the chamber.
Labour’s Cllr Mick Dollard, backed by Cllr Denis Leonard, had argued that it would be “foolhardy” to make a decision on the council’s involvement in waste collection in isolation, and that it should be examined in the context of the overall December budget. He also argued strongly for the introduction of a national policy regarding the waiver system.
However, several Fianna Fail councillors, while backing calls for a national waiver system, accused the Labour element of “sitting on the fence” and “ducking the issue”, with Cllr Robert Troy particularly critical of the suggestion to defer the decision.
“We are faced with a very tough decision today, and we cannot be seen to gamble taxpayers’ money. It is with a heavy heart that I support this proposal. Shame on the people who are sitting on the fence today,” he said.
County manager Dan McLoughlin explained that the recommendations of the report “were not made lightly”, and arise from a number of factors. These include a commitment to close the Ballydonagh landfill site by March 2010, increased competition from the private sector which currently charges 30 per cent less than the council, required investment in a brown bin service, and a projected loss of over €600,000 to Westmeath County Council if they continue to provide a waste collection service.
“We have to deal with the financial constraints. A decision to defer would give rise to a number of problems, and we would not be able to guarantee a service in January or have time for a smooth transition. I can’t advise members to accept the motion to defer the decision, as we would be putting off the inevitable and risking the loss of further money to the council,” he said.
“I can’t take a punt with public money, and I can’t stand over these losses as your manager.”
Fianna Fail’s Cllr Aidan Davitt then suggested that everything possible should be done to see if the waiver scheme could be retained, but streamlined to prevent abuse of the system. He proposed the setting up of a three-person inter-party committee to look at the issue.
Fianna Fail’s Cllr Paddy Hill and Fine Gael’s Cllr Frank McDermott were chosen by their parties to sit on the proposed committee, while Labour declined to name their representative at the time.