CUTBACKS to the Local Government fund for County Waterford are not as severe as previously feared, however Minister Phil Hogan is still refusing to release the third quarterly allowance of €507,000 and will reduce the amount available in the final quarter if more home owners don’t stump up payment for the household charge.
The news was greeted by some relief at last week’s meeting of Waterford County Council, which came two weeks after councillors abandoned their meeting at the start of the month such was their fury at the possibility of the council losing €2m in funding.
After seeking clarification from Minister Phil Hogan, management at the County Council learned that the adjustment made to the General Purpose Grant payment in Quarter 3 is confirmed and will not be reviewed further. No reason has been provided for why this amount of money is being withheld.
Waterford County Manager Denis McCarthy said that this meant that the €507,000 due to them for the third quarter would not be handed over. In respect of the final quarter payment, Waterford County Council is still at risk of losing another €90,000.
The monies, which are to be paid in November, will not be affected if over 65% of people comply with the household charge. For county and city councils with compliance rates of between 60% and 65% a deduction of 0.5% of the initial General Purpose Allocation will be made, which will locally amount to €90,000. So far, 61 % have paid the charge in the County.
Mr McCarthy added that spending will be prioritised for areas deemed most in need, with county roads earmarked for works.
Cllr James Tobin said that no matter how many people pay the charge, Waterford would still be left short vital funding.
“We are not getting €507,000 back no matter what. That tells people out there that you were right. Even if they pay the county will be left short. Where is that money gone to? I can hazard a guess that it’s gone to O’Reilly’s big hole in the health service. It’s a disgrace. They can glamourise it anyway they like, we are still down €600,000.”
Cllr Michael J. O’Ryan said that even if there was 100% compliance at this stage the County would still be fined, while Cllr Brendan Mansfield labelled the whole thing a “farce” and said it was bullyboy tactics by the Minister when he encouraged councils to follow the lead of the council in Clare when it came to delaying student grants for those who had not paid the charge.
He said there was a lot of anger amongst people who had paid the charge out of fear only to find out that cuts are still to be made in the area.
“The knife has still gone in, not as deep as we thought, but to the value of €600,000. It’s gone in to bail out the bondholders,” he added.
Referring to information obtained in a Freedom of Information request, Cllr Durcan told a special budget meeting of Mayo County Council that County Manager Peter Hynes had claimed expenses in 2011 totalling €22,390. He said that the county manager was the only official to claim expenses over €20,000 while two council employees made claims over €15,000, 25 claimed over €10,000 and 255 claimed over €5,000. In total, the expense claims amounted to a staggering €3.2m for 2011.
Cllr Durcan also drew attention to a claim by one council employee for €35.45 following purchases in a Castlebar pub.
IT HAS BEEN revealed that Council expenditure on the administration of Sligo’s Cranmore Regeneration project is significantly higher than any other regeneration scheme in the country.
United Left Alliance representative Joan Collins T.D. recently asked the Minister for the Environment for details of the amount of regeneration funding spent on a number of urban renewal schemes in 2009 including, the Mitchel’s Crescent Regeneration Scheme in Tralee; the Laural Avenue Regeneration Scheme in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown; the Cranmore Regeneration Scheme Sligo and the Waterford City Regeneration Scheme. She also sought the expenditure on staff salaries on each of the regeneration schemes and the staff salaries as a percentage of overall expenditure on each scheme.
The response from the Ministers office revealed that a colossal 17% of funding provided for the Cranmore Regeneration Project in Sligo was spent on salaries. In Dun Laoghaire Rathdown 1.5% of the funding was spent on salaries; in Tralee 1.5% was spent on salaries; while in Waterford 4.5% of funding was spent on salaries.
Speaking today Independent Socialist Councillor Declan Bree thanked Deputy Collins and said “This funding was supposed to be for regeneration, for the refurbishment of housing stock and the improvement of the estate, however in Sligo almost one out of every five euro is being spent on salaries and administration. How can the County Manager justify this?
“When the Minister for the Environment asked the local authorities in Dun Laoghaire, Sligo, Waterford and Tralee to use their own staff and resources to the fullest extent in terms of supervising regeneration schemes, he did so with the intention of reducing costs. However the exorbitant costs in Sligo are inexplicable and clearly cannot be justified.
“While paying 17% of the funding on administration the regeneration office also paid out over €120,000 in fees to private consultants, in addition over €90,000 was paid in Technical fees in respect of the grass mounds in the estate which still remain in place.
“The fact is that regeneration funding is not being spent where it is supposed to. In the past week alone I have been contacted by a number of constituents from Cranmore – one pensioner who asked for proper heating to be installed in her home was told that there was no money for such work; another told me that her obsolete cooker could not be replaced due to lack of funds and another told me that she has had to ask the Ombudsman to intervene so as to have her windows repaired/replaced.
“I have asked Deputy Collins to raise the matter in the Dail when it resumes in September. As far as I am concerned the people of Cranmore and the people of Sligo are entitled to know why so much money is being squandered on administration costs. ” said Cllr Bree.