Clare’s longest standing councillor has hit out at the proposed reduction of General Municipal Allocation (G.M.A.) for the four municipal districts in the country.
Cllr PJ Kelly was speaking at Monday’s meeting of the local authority where he tabled a motion which asked “that the C.E.O. reverses his proposal to reduce G.M.A. in forthcoming estates because of its negative impact on rural communities”. On Friday, councillors will meet to discuss the draft budget where there is a proposal to cut €300,000 from the G.M.A. which is €75,000 for each Municipal District.
Noeleen Fitzgerald, Acting Head of Finance, Corporate and Human Resources outlined that the legislative basis for the preparation of the draft local authority budget was provided by the Local Government Reform Act 2014.
She stated the 2019 draft budget process commenced in August 2018 with the Corporate Policy Group (CPG). “This consultation with the CPG focused on the overall financial position of the local authority and discussed a number of key items for financial consequences for 2019 including any variation in basic rate of Local Property Tax (LPT), the amount of General Municipal Allocation to be provided to municipal districts, income reductions over previous years and increased non discretionary expenditure”. The full Council was briefed on the “emerging financial demands and the impact on the draft budget process”, her reply highlighted.
Fitzgerald added, “The amount an authority can provide by way of General Municipal Allocation is dependent on the total level of income available to it, and the non-discretionary cost that must be met as a first call on the income, including at municipal district level”. She said the draft budget “provides for continued investment in our rural communities”.
An elected representative since 1974, Cllr Kelly described it as the “most anti-rural proposal I have ever heard”. “It is with a deep sense of regret that I found it necessary to put this motion before the Council, I was deeply hurt as were my colleagues in the West Clare area. What was proposed was deeply detrimental to them and the people that elected him. I extend my sympathies to the financial officer who holds the poisoned chalice”.
The Fianna Fáil councillor listed a host of villages across the county that he feels will “be losers, we can prevent them from being losers”. He stated, “If we look at West Clare, €75,000 has been cut back, that’s €6 or 7,000 for deprived villages, this is a loss of 7 or 8 schemes”. “This may seem to be small potatoes in an overall budget of €117m but small potatoes if you have enough of them can feed the hungry”.
Kelly then quoted from W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘No Second Troy’, “Had they but courage equal to desire?” He continued, “History will not be kind to us if we fail, posterity will not forgive us”. The Lissycasey man hit out at the proposal to award €300,000 to Lees Rd which was “€300,000 taken off rural Clare”. “I go back to the time Cllr McMahon and Cllr Curtin started here under Joe Boland who came up with the perfect policy for success giving advantage to human endeavour. We are letting down rural Clare, we can stop it. Thanks to those in West Clare who had the courage to take the stand, I ask for your support in the name of the people that elected you”.
Independent Ian Lynch seconded the motion. “G.M.A. for me in Kilrush is only filling a void since the Government decided to get rid of Town Councils. A small amount is huge to a community, it is very hard to see the fruits of G.M.A. on global scale but very easy on a local level”. Cllr Christy Curtin also voiced his backing, “I supported property tax on a consistent basis so communities would benefit. We are the corporate authority, asking the CEO to have the courage to restore the €75,000 to each of the Municipal Districts”.
Cathaoirleach Michael Begley then reminded elected representatives, “This isn’t a budget meeting, we will have a budget meeting on the sixteenth”.
Ennis councillor Mary Howard maintained the cuts would negatively affect urban Clare. “Just to show it is not just a rural issue, that €75,000 will have a huge affect on our events, festivals run by volunteers, this money keeps these afloat. I want to fully support my colleagues from West Clare”. Fianna Fáil’s Alan O’Callaghan told the meeting, “We’re being penalised by central government and being penalised again by taking another €75,000. It is a lot of money to East Clare”.
Cllr Gerry Flynn hit out at the comments of Cllr Kelly. “I refute the suggestion that any councillor who supported the G.M.A. let down their constituents. We all fight very hard for our constituents. In the Shannon District, the members supported the request from the CEO. If there is additional funding available that maybe additional funding could be directed towards the district. I’m a former Trade Unionist, my job was to stay at the table of the CPG, none of the members of the CPG walked away from the bait, we were originally asked to cut €600,000. I deal in honesty and transparency, I would like additional money for the Shannon Municipal District but if it’s not there it’s not there”.
It will not be until Friday’s meeting that Cllr James Breen will make up his mind he announced in the Council Chamber. “Lees Rd is the greatest thing to come to this county, I meet people from all over the county, I meet teams from all over the country. If you want peace and tranquillity going for a walk, come to Lees Rd”.
Responding to the views expressed, Council CEO, Pat Dowling reiterated that the time to discuss the Budget was not at their November monthly meeting. “The Council ran a deficit in its accounts for over two decades. The G.M.A. to the county is shy of a million euro”.
Concluding the discussion, Cllr Kelly referred to the legal costs of the local authority, “they are four times what they are costing in Kerry, we need to cop ourselves on. We have to balance the budget”.