Marathon budget meeting ends in agreement

In the end, after a budget meeting that lasted more than 30 hours in total and stretched over three different days, Donegal County Council’s 2013 revenue budget came down to a disagreement over about 33,000 euro, or an estimated .025 percent of the 133.2 million euro revenue package.

In the end, after a budget meeting that lasted more than 30 hours in total and stretched over three different days, Donegal County Council’s 2013 revenue budget came down to a disagreement over about 33,000 euro, or an estimated .025 percent of the 133.2 million euro revenue package.

Report by Carolyn Farrar

Shortly after 5.10am on Tuesday, by a vote of 20-4, county councillors approved an amended revenue budget that saw no increase in commercial rates, water charges or council rents. The budget also finished with 255,000 euro more for housing maintenance, with councillors approving an addition of 30,000 euro to draft budget figures after their deliberations.

With the increase in funding for housing maintenance, councillors also called on the local authority to prioritise the refurbishing of now-vacant housing and has earmarked an additional 60,000 euro in the budget for rents from the forthcoming refurbished and relet units.

After councillors approved the unchanged rates and several members spoke on the budget, it was after 5.30am when councillors and senior council staff left County House in Lifford.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour councillors, along with independent Cllrs. Pádraig Doherty, Michael McBride, Ian McGarvey and Terence Slowey, voted for the budget. Sinn Féin councillors and independent Cllr. John Campbell voted against it.

The budget meeting began last month, on Dec. 19th, and was adjourned 13 hours later without agreement. The meeting reconvened on Monday at about 12.30pm.

Adjournments to allow talks within and between political groupings on budget proposals presented by Fianna Fáil, by Sinn Féin and Cllr. Campbell and by Fine Gael, Labour and the four independent councillors, took up much of the reconvened meeting. After the budget was adopted, Fianna Fáil party whip, Cllr. Ciaran Brogan, pointed to the similarities between the final package and the final Fianna Fáil proposal, and suggested adoption could have come much earlier.

“This is the first time ever that we’ve been here until ten past five and I want to say this: I hope it’s the last time, because I tell you there have to be lessons learned from this process,” Cllr. Brogan said. He said he had nothing personal against any members in the chamber, “but I do feel sometimes personality seems to get in the way.”

“I believe the reason we didn’t have agreement earlier this evening was because the proposal was a Fianna Fáil proposal, and that’s wrong,” Cllr Brogan said.

However, Fine Gael party whip, Cllr. Barry O’Neill, also pointed to similarities between the adopted budget and the Fine Gael proposal, saying the 30,000 euro increase in maintenance came from the Fine Gael plan. He focused on the maintenance of current rent, rate and water charges, saying, “There are more good stories in this budget than anything else.”

“I think we performed a duty, no matter what people want to say,” he said.

“The facts there there in black and white,” Cllr. O’Neill said. “This is a very good budget.”

The Fianna Fáil proposal found about 33,000 euro more in savings than the Fine Gael plan, 363,272 euro to 330,000 euro. The compromise plan that was adopted found 300,000 in savings, enabling councillors to eliminate the proposed council rent hike of 2 euro per week that had been in the draft revenue budget.

The proposal submitted by Sinn Féin and Cllr. Campbell sought far more money for maintenance of council housing and reported to find more than 1 million euro in savings, largely but not exclusively by calling on the council executive to further restructure water and waste loans to interest only for a savings of more than 1.1 million euro.

While all councillors had in December rejected the proposed increase in council rents that the draft budget contained, they had disagreed on where to find the estimated 300,000 euro in revenue that the increase would generate. Fine Gael had made a proposal at the December meeting that would have taken money from housing maintenance and other areas, but Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin had proposed adjourning the meeting until a later date to allow for further debate, saying they would not approve a decrease in maintenance funding.

Maintenance funding was also a key reason why Sinn Féin and Cllr. Campbell ultimately rejected the budget.

“The most vulnerable of our people will not get the services they deserve,” Sinn Féin party whip, Cllr. Mick Quinn, said. He said some people in council housing “will continue to live in houses that are cold, drafty and damp”.