Rates are down in draft budget
Next week county councillors will consider a county draft revenue budget for 2011 that is about 5 million euro less than this year's adopted budget, though the new plan would cut commercial rates and keep water charges at current levels.
"The most significant overriding challenge facing the council in 2011 is the establishment of a level of service across the county that is affordable and sustainable," County Manager Seamus Neely said in the report that accompanied the council's draft 2011 revenue budget. Mr. Neely said the draft budget comes "at a time of much uncertainty and in the most challenging economic and financial climate in recent memory."
The council is scheduled to hold its annual budget meeting at 10 am, Monday, Dec. 20, in the training room in County House, Lifford. The council's three-year capital budget for 2011-2013 will be presented to councillors for their consideration in early 2011.
The draft revenue plan for 2011 comes in at 153.3 million euro, down 5 million euro from the 158,363,927 euro revenue budget that the council adopted for 2010. The plan is also nearly 3.7 million euro less than the council's projected end-of-year outturn for 2010, which is 157 million euro.
Commercial rates have been reduced by 3.5 percent in the draft, with the commercial rate multiplier coming down from 72.23 this year to 69.70 euro in 2011. In his report, Mr. Neely said he is also "making provision for the continued level of business support and advisory service in 2011 for customers experiencing difficulty" to that provided this year.
Water and wastewater charges remain the same for the coming year in the draft budget, with the volumetric water charge for non-domestic water services users at 2.31 euro per cubic metre and the standing charge at 175 euro. In his report Mr. Neely noted that the anticipated revenue from the charges is 8.1 million euro, down 1.4 million euro from the amount included in the 2010 adopted budget. The county manager attributed the reduction to conservation and lower levels of general demand.
The draft budget includes no general increase in rents for council housing, Mr. Neely said. He said this will enable tenants dependent on social welfare payments to have their rents reduced under the differential rent scheme in proportion to their reduced income.
Fianna Fil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan, party whip and a member of the council's Corporate Policy Group (CPG), said his party colleagues have been having their own meetings on the budget and will meet again this week amongst themselves and with council management.
"We recognise first-hand the different challenges we all face at the moment," he said. Cllr. Brogan said that retention of existing council services is a priority that is "coming very strong from all the members". Other CPG members could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Mr. Neely said that the council relies on the business and farming sectors for a major portion of its funding, through rates and charges. But he said both "are struggling to continue in an environment where access to trading capital is restricted, and consumer sentiment is very much reduced."
At the same time, he said, the council has made major efforts this year to work with its debtors to manage collections in a reasonable manner and will continue that in 2011.
The council also learned that the local government fund allocation from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be 36.3 million euro for 2011, down by about 2.5 million euro, or 6.6 percent, from this year.
Council payroll costs have also fallen by 15 percent since 2008, dropping from 58,885,494 euro in 2008 to 50,239,297 euro in next year's draft budget. During the same period, there has been a reduction of 344 whole-time equivalent positions within the council.
Mr. Neely said reductions in staff numbers will require ongoing "reshaping and restructuring" under the principles of the Croke Park agreement. He said any changes would require discussions with staff and their representatives on how to minimise the impact on services.