County Hall on John Street
Local councillors are facing some tough decisions in the coming weeks, as the full effects of Covid-19 on the local authority budget are felt.
While Central Government will assist in bridging the shortfall in commercial rates revenue, other streams of income for Kilkenny County Council have been badly impacted and may be for some time. Income from parking charges, for example - valued at around €2.4 million per year to the council coffers - will fall short this year. There have been no parking charges for the past several weeks, and even as they return this month, it is not known how long it will be before parking demand returns to pre-Covid levels.
Councillors will be briefed on these matters at a session in the Watergate Theatre this Friday, June 5. The meeting will be ‘information-only’, and no decisions will be made at it. However, the day for decisions is looming.
It may involve delaying or scaling back some capital projects, or indeed, grant schemes. It is also entirely possible the council will have to adopt an interim budget in advance of its usual autumn meeting to agree a budget for 2021.
The powers that be are looking at ways to resume some of the work and services that have had to be put on pause during Covid-19 restrictions, which benefit local business and people in the community. For example, in its budget for 2020, the council set out €1.5 million for housing grants for the elderly and disabled. Much of this money goes back into the local economy — to those installing or retrofitting windows, roofs, and carrying out adapatations.
“We haven’t been able to do any of that since the Covid restrictions. It’s all on hold,” says Cllr Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere.
“A lot of those grant schemes would be used by people who are older or vulnerable people. So, they might be cocooning or isolating, and a person can’t be going in to their house to carry out works like that. Getting them back going will be a real shot in the arm .”
The council also subvents local institutions and groups including the Watergate Theatre, Rothe House, the Castlecomer Discovery Park. They have not been able to open to the public in recent weeks, and coming up with a plan to help and sustain them will be another challenge.
“We are working with them to make sure they will be sustainable and viable. It is really a challenging situation in terms of finances,” said Cllr Cleere. “We want to make decisions in the best interest of Kilkenny, and we want tourism and festivals back as soon as it is safe.”