County Council budget passes with commercial rate cut by 3.5%

Donegal County Council is close to passing its budget for 2011 with €153 million to be spent on running the county this year. County Manager Seamus Neely and Head of Finance Gary Martin presented detailed estimates of income and expenditure to members at today's budget meeting at County House in Lifford.

The commercial rate will be cut by 3.5%, water charges will remain as they are, and landfill gate fees will be reduced by 15 euro a tonne. After a series of discussions between the party whips and the manager and his officials, the indications are now that a 5% commercial rate reduction may be achieved. After the budget proposals were presented, the council reconvened this afternoon for the party whips to give their verdict on the proposed budget.

In his submission, Fianna Fail whip Cllr Ciaran Brogan said his party is very happy with the budget book, acknowledging that 2011 will be a challenging year for the officials. He said it's important that the officials are seen to have the support of the council. He called for a Community Innovation Fund of €100,000, to allow members some leeway to help local projects.
Fine Gael whip Cllr Slowey welcomed the proposed reducation in the commercial rate, but was slightly critical of elements of presentation, saying the information provided was not as transparent as in previous years. Sinn Fein Whip Cllr Padriag Mac Lochlain also welcomed the budget, particularly the rate reduction and a comitment to save 4 million euro through value for money and better procurement practices. However, he said it must not be forgotten that 344 jobs have been lost in Donegal County Council over the past two and a half years. He said Sinn Fein are proposing a Strategic Transport Fund of €200,000 to cover airports, ferries, and possibly in the future, rail. On behalf of Labour, Cllr Frank Mc Brearty said there are problems in Donegal which must be overcome. On the water issue, he said the recent warnings which have seen supplies in the Lough Mourne scheme curtailed each night highlight the need for more development. He said the council is spending money on services such as ferries and tourism which should be provided through central government. On behalf of the independents, Cllr Ian Mc Garvey said the council's relationship with Northern Ireland must be strengthened. Members noted that water charges are high, particularly in terms of standing charges. However, they acknowledged that setting these charges is a function of mnagement rather than members, and the final decision will be Seamus Neely's. After the submissions, the meeting adjourned again for a series of inter party meetings. The concensus from those was that a 5% rate reduction should be sought, and the whips met with Seamus Neely to discuss how that might be achieved. However, the gap proved unbridgeable, and the 3.5% reduction was agreed. On the proposal of Cllr Ciaran Brogan, seconded by Cllr Terence Slowey, the budget was unanimously adopted as presented. A Community Development Fund will be established with details to be confirmed at the January meeting.