AFTER almost four hours of intense negotiations and five adjournments Kilkenny County Council passed the local budget with all groups agreeing that is was the best deal they could have hoped for.
Despite the fact that the council is facing cuts from national government of up to 2.1m euro to the local government fund they have still managed to increase their expenditure on services by 600,000 euro. Last year the council budgeted for expenditure of 70.2m euro, this year they are planning on spending 70.8m euro.
Kilkenny County Council is facing an extremely tough set of economic circumstances with decreasing sources of income from both national and local sources. The downturn in construction has severely affected the council's finances. They had expected to be collecting 11.6m euro a year in development costs under the current Development Contribution Scheme. The sharp contraction in construction means that the council will only be in receipt of 2m euro per annum.
Despite this the council is committed to maintaining the lowest level of commercial rates in the country. For the third year in a row the council will not increase their rates charge. This measure which costs the council over 3m euro a year in revenue is designed to support local businesses.
The main points of the 2011 budget are:
• Housing provision to increase by 500,000 euro to 10.9m euro
• Roads to decrease by 400,000 euro to 15.2m euro
• Water Services an increase of 300,000 euro to 14.2m euro
• Environmental Services including fire service
- decrease of 500,000 euro to 7.9m euro
• Recreational and Amenity - Unchanged at 3.8m euro
• Agriculture, Education and Health and Welfare - Increase of 1m euro to 8.6m euro
• Miscellaneous Services - unchanged 4.8m euro
• Central Management - reduced by 1m euro to 10.2m euro.
There were was very little argument from the county councillor on the main points of the budget. It was two small issues that took four hours to sort out. The first issue was the provision of 20,000 euro for a recycling centre in Newrath in south Kilkenny and the second issue was provision of a commitment to provide an extra 10,000 euro in funding for the library service book fund by 2012.
The county manager Joe Crockett proposed the 2011 budget. He said "The proposal is that the book is passed subject to a number of amendments. The first is that the figure of 20,000 euro is transferred from roads to recycling and that the figure in relation to the book fund is increased by 10,000 euro minimum by 2012 and that on the question of the other issues that the members expressed such strong concerns on, the library book fund, funding for the community voluntary forum and the sports partnership, once we know the position in relation to the end of year out term, that it will be addressed at the January meeting and that time be set aside for it in the January agenda."
Cllr Tom Maher (Fine Gael) welcomed the budget for 2011 but he warned of difficult times ahead. "Its a difficult exercise and certainly I think they've made a good job of it under the circumstances. Cllr it was an extremely difficult year and I've no doubt that a number of difficult years to come down the line in front of us. Regardless of what government is in place I think there is tough times ahead for at least the next three or four if not more years. It was difficult to frame the budget under the circumstances because the demands out there are as strong as they ever were and indeed in some cases even stronger," he said.
Cllr Maher welcomed the allocation of 156,000 euro for works on the housing stock. He said that the extra money will help alleviate a lot of the problems that arose in relation to the past harsh winter and indeed the current difficult weather. Cllr Maher also raised the point that the council may have to look at reducing local authority rents in line with the reduction in social welfare cuts and wage reductions. He said "the other issue that will arise for us in the springtime that will also cause a lot of problems is that we were in the habit of having rent reviews when the rents were going up but with the cut in social welfare and a cut in wages in a number of cases when we are doing rent reviews for our local authority tenants actually the rents will go down which will put additional pressure on us as well."
Cllr Michael O'Brien (labour) praised the councils protection of commerce highlighting the fact that the council has maintained its low rates again this year. Mr O'Brien also echoes Cllr Maher's fears about with the up coming rent reviews he said "In housing I agree with cllr Maher about the fact that we are going to have reduced income from housing that might effect at some stage our ability to continue to keeping the housing stock in the conditions it has been maintained to date. We've managed to stave off cuts in peripheral stuff like arts, heritage and the library service and that is something that we've all taken huge hope from."
Cllr Matt Doran (Fianna Fail) praised his colleagues from the Newrath area for saving the recycling centre and summed up the four hours of negotiations by saying "its good to talk." He said " On behalf of our group here can I just say that we are delighted that we got to finalise. It was a long day and I suppose there were a lot of issues over the last few days and I'm glad we got I solved. I'm delighted for my two colleagues from the Newrath area that they've got an issue they fought long and hard for over the last couple of months and I think they deserve great credit from our group and from the people of the Piltown area. So with that Chairman I'm glad we got an agreement on the budget. They say its good to talk."