Council must do more

Council must do more

Council must do more

with less - Co. Manager

Carolyn.Farrar

@donegaldemocrat.com

The county manager has called some of the measures the council needs to balance the 2011 budget "a big ask", but said it was incumbent on the council to do more with less in the coming year.

At yesterday's annual budget meeting, which started two hours later than scheduled because of the treacherous driving conditions, County Manager Seamus Neely presented the elected members with a 153 million euro draft revenue budget for 2011, down about 5 million euro from the 2010 plan.

The 2011 draft budget would reduce commercial rates by 3.5 percent and keep water charges at 2010 levels.

The meeting was ongoing at the time of going to press.

Mr. Neely said most local authorities in the country were seeking a marginal increase in commercial rates this year, making Donegal one of only very few local authorities proposing a decrease.

Putting together the draft budget has been "an extremely difficult process," Mr. Neely said, adding, "the numbers in the early days just simply didn't add up."

While the draft budget was being prepared, the council learned that the authority's grant from the Local Government Fund from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government would be down just under 7 percent, dropping from 39 million euro in 2010 to 36 million euro in 2011. Though still a decrease, the loss was far less than had been expected initially.

"Had that not happened we would have had huge difficulties for today," Mr. Neely said. He said it was his understanding that Donegal had experienced the lowest percentage cut in Local Government Fund grants of any local authority in the country.

The manager also said he appreciated the opportunity to consult with the council's Corporate Policy Group in the lead-up to preparing the draft. The county manager said meetings with councillors enabled the executive to take a view on their understanding of members' priorities, and said there was a "huge effort in drafting the budget to ensure those priorities are in it."

The council is hoping to achieve a saving of 4 million euro through revising its procurement approaches. The manager said that essentially the draft budget book "contains a promise from the management of council" that where 40 million euro was estimated, the council "will actually do that job for 36 million euro. That's a big, big ask."

The savings will require "a very thorough and detailed approach to looking at procurement approaches," Mr. Neely said.

In the same way, the council hopes to save up to an additional 1 million euro through centralizing debt management arrangements.

The 153 million euro draft budget includes 47 million euro for Housing and Corporate Services, 42.78 million euro for Roads and Transportation Services, 32 million euro for Water and Environment Services, 12 million euro for Community, Culture and Planning Services and 19 million euro for Finance and Emergency Services.

More than half, 55 percent, of the council revenue will come from state grants and the Local Government Fund, with 45 percent coming from local funding, including rates, water charges and fees for goods and services.

Mr. Neely highlighted several other key considerations in his report: The council will also absorb a 10 euro levy in landfill gate fees, reducing the 2010 fee by 15 euro to 95 euro per ton in 2011; and they are targeting a 400,000 euro increase in revenue from the levy on non-primary residences, from 2.8 million to 3.2 million euro. The council is also producing 500,000 euro in matching funds to draw 2 million euro in housing grants.

Across the board, Mr. Neely said, "It is incumbent on us to do more with less. What that means essentially is to deliver on the efficiency agenda."

"I wonder would I get a start?" Hotelier, Benny Dorrian gives Donegal County Council a hand out in Ballyshannon before Santa arrived in the town at the weekend. 2112MVBritton9 BS.JPG