Cllr Staunton said that in November 2010 the council unanimously passed a motion against the dissolving of town council and invited a delegation from the Department of Environment to meet with the town council; this invitation was not taken up. Cllr Staunton again reiterated this invitation “before it’s too late”.
Cllr Staunton said: “Don’t give me the money argument as it doesn’t stand up,” explaining that in the town’s budget of over €5 million, the expenditure of councillors is only one per cent. The councillor added: “In the event that the town council becomes extinct money paid in rates no longer will be ringfenced for Westport town to cater for facilities,” and instead will go “into the back hole of the Mayo County Council budget.”
Cllr Staunton said that at this late stage we should put a package together and say come and look at what we have done, “if we go down, we go down shouting.”
Cllr Brendan Mulroy said that he firmly believes that “we are going out of business and the town will suffer for it.”
Fine Gael councillor Christy Hyland said that the town council “is the closest tier of government to the people” and to get rid of town councils is “an attack on democracy”.
Cllr Keith Martin said that people in this town care about the town council which is evident in election times. Cllr Martin said that “this council has been a leader” and “we will not be a voice snuffed out easily.”
Cathaoirleach of the council, Cllr Ollie Gannon said that every council should be judged on its merits and he said that “we are letting the minister know that we are not taking this lying down”.
Cllr Tereasa McGuire said that Westport is one of the “most successful town councils” and if the town council goes there will be no voice for local people, which is the “real tragedy”.
Cllr Michael McLaughlin added that “radical reform” is needed for town councils, as some are just a talking shop. The Fine Gael councillor said that “councillors should be paid properly and given more powers or scrap the lot.”
THERE are no figures available for compliance with the household charge in Westport, though the overall rate for the county stands at around 69 per cent. Those who have not paid the €100 household charge as of yet will find they are now liable for €126, and this will rise to €127 from next week. That was the message from Westport Town Council last week, where councillors debated the much-maligned tax.
The council executive continued to insist that the charge must be paid if local authority services are to remain unaffected, but the debate spilled into the political domain, and there was disagreement among councillors on the issue.
Fine Fáil councillor Margaret Adams said that Environment Minister Phil Hogan had made a ‘hames’ of the whole household charge initiative, and she asked why no bills had been sent out, even to those that had not yet made payment.
Cllr Martin Keane became untypically irate and demanded to know what people ‘who just cannot afford to pay it’ are supposed to do. He had a swipe at Mayo County Council’s senior management, demanding to know what the money would be spent on, before answering his own question by stating, ‘the manager and officials off to the States, that’s what.’
Cllr Myles Staunton took umbrage at this and rebuked Cllr Keane, calling his words a ‘cheap shot’, while Cathaoirleach Ollie Gannon said it was not right to go down the road of criticising people that were not present. Cllr Staunton went on to say that he believed areas of the county that had paid more should not be punished in the same way as those that had paid less.
Town Manager Martin Keating said that the council had begun contacting some households in relation to the charge, where their databases had showed an outstanding liability. He said the household charge is a self-declaration collection and there are no waivers for it, though he said some people would be exempt from paying it. He said there are criteria and rules governing the charge and the council have staff to deal with queries on it.