Westmeath County Council’s annual budget meeting is unlikely to go ahead this Monday, after the Government failed to notify the council of its Local Government Grant for 2014.
The council has confirmed that it will not be in a position to set even a preliminary budget on Monday as the grant has not been allocated by the Government.
Frustrated Westmeath councillors are worried that they will now not be able to set their annual budget this side of Christmas, as Irish Water has not yet agreed to the council’s estimates for the coming year.
Senior executive officer Declan Leonard confirmed that there has been no indication what the Local Government Fund - the contribution made by the Government to the council’s activities - will be for 2014, or when the council will be informed of the amount.
“We are usually notified in December about the Local Government Fund for the year, but we’ve had no indication this year. I can’t say when it’s coming; we normally would have had it by this stage.
“We’ve been engaging with Irish Water for the last nine months to a year, giving them our list of assets, income, and expenditure, but they haven’t come back to us.
“Water services would have a big impact on the budget, and it is difficult to prepare the budget without it. We have estimates, but Irish Water would have to agree the figures.”
Councillors were incensed after hearing that they would not be in a position to set commercial rates at their upcoming budget meeting scheduled for next Monday.
It is understood that monies collected through the Local Property Tax are to go Ireland’s new national water body Irish Water, which is bringing the water services of all local authorities together under one service provider.
However, councils are being left in the dark as to how much funding they will now be receiving from the Government for the coming year, with the result that they are unable to set commercial rates which make up a sizeable chunk of the council’s income.
Cllr Mick Dollard was in disbelief at the “very strong possibility that Westmeath County Council might not be able to strike a rate in January”.
“I have never seen a situation like this before where the local authority don’t know what the Local Government Grant is,” he said.
Mr Leonard confirmed that other local authorities are experiencing the same difficulties.
“Normally we get correspondence from the Department and get a period for striking a rate. This is normally up to the second week in January but traditionally councils do this before Christmas. Without this it is very difficult to strike a budget,” said Mr Leonard.
He said the delay from Irish Water would also have implications for the council’s task of taking estates in charge, as parts of the process will fall under their remit.