Services to be slashed as council in ‘crisis’

Services including street cleaning, park maintenance and Arts Office programmes are being cut by Kilkenny County Council this year because the council is facing a deficit of €1.8 million for the year.

Services including street cleaning, park maintenance and Arts Office programmes are being cut by Kilkenny County Council this year because the council is facing a deficit of €1.8 million for the year.

And the picture is even more bleak for 2013. Although nothing has yet been decided, everything is on the table, including the closure of the Loughboy library, a withdrawal of €50,000 each to Woodstock Gardens and the Castlecomer Discovery Park, and a halving of the council’s contribution to the local youth facility.

The figures were presented at Monday’s County Council meeting, where cuts totalling €130,000 for this year were passed. These include cuts of €10,000 towards cleaning up illegal dumping, €5,000 towards community development, €10,000 towards public conveniences, €30,000 towards local roads funding, €20,000 towards street cleaning, €10,000 towards maintenance of amenity areas, €10,000 each towards park maintenance and pitch maintenance, €10,000 towards the Arts Office programme, and €15,000 towards the Carlow Kilkenny Energy Agency.

The shortfall in funding is the result of less money brought in through commercial rates and water rates than expected, and the threat of some €800,000 being withheld by the central government because the county has only a 61% rate in paying the household charge. The Government is threatening to withhold a substantial amount of the Local Government Fund to the council if County Kilkenny does not reach 70% compliance with the household charge by the end of the year.

That €800,000 is on top of lower-than-expected income including a shortfall of €435,000 from an 11% reduction in water usage, largely because of the wet summer, and a drop of €337,000 in expected commercial rates because of business closures that were more widespread than anticipated.

Several council members and county manager Joe Crockett made an appeal to those who have not paid the household charge to do so by the end of the year.

“If the people of this county do not bring it up to 70%, then we are in an immediate financial crisis,” Mr Crockett said of the rate of compliance with the charge. And for 2013, he said: “The outlook is very, very bleak. It is unprecedented.”

“The council will never be able to borrow as it did in the past,” he said.

The cuts and spending reductions that were passed on Monday for 2012 mainly mean “not spending whatever remaining budget is there between now and the end of the year,” explained the council’s head of finance, John Dempsey. “The bulk of spending has already taken place for the year.”

For 2013, council members were presented with a list of options to be cut totalling €1.16 million.

These include full or part cuts in funding to community development, disabled persons grants, Kilkenny Tourism, essential repairs grants, maintenance of Woodstock Gardens, Castlecomer Discovery Park, rural transport, recycling bring banks, cleaning up of illegal dumping, Civil Defence, Loughboy library, amenity grants, the Watergate Theatre and Rothe House, among many others.

Some reductions to councillors’ payments are on the list to be considered for 2013 but not for this year.

As it stands, however, even all of the proposals for 2013 put together would not be enough – because the council’s predicted shortfall for next year is already estimated to be €2.6 million, rising to €3.5 million in 2014 and €4.3 million in 2015.

“We are definitely indicating to members and the county that major financial issues are presenting for this year and also in an even deeper way for the next year,” Mr Crockett said.