Donegal county councillors on Tuesday adopted an amended €148 million revenue budget for 2012 that took €400,000 from other areas of council spending and revenue to add to the budget for local roads maintenance.
The cut of €1 million in the council’s own resources for local roads maintenance was a major sticking point for councillors at the annual budget meeting on Dec. 21st. That meeting adjourned without a vote, after Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin councillors said they could not support the draft. Both parties cited concerns over the level of funding for roads and other basic council services.
But the amended budget negotiated on Tuesday was adopted by a margin of 22-5, supported by Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and three independent councillors. All four Sinn Féin councillors and independent Cllr. John Campbell voting against the package.
The amended budget will also give new start-up businesses that meet certain criteria 12 months before they must pay commercial rates, establishes a value-for-money committee and puts a hold on implementation of new parking charges until local businesses are consulted, among other initiatives.
The budget vote came at the end of a nine-hour session that included six adjournments and saw councillors spend most of the day in a series of closed-door negotiations. At 5.30 pm, they reconvened to review amendments that had been agreed by Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and independent Cllrs. Pádraig Doherty, Ian McGarvey and Michael McBride.
Sinn Féin councillors said that they could not support the budget unless the central government provided more money. Cllr. Campbell said that on principle he would not support a budget based on income from the household charge, which he opposes, and agreed with Sinn Féin that the budget as it stood did not include enough funding for council services.
“Today was our opportunity to say once and for all, to send a very clear message back to Dublin that we in Donegal are no longer willing to accept the crumbs from your table,” Sinn Féin Cllr. Mick Quinn, the party whip, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
But Fine Gael Cllr. Bernard McGuinness said the council’s adoption of the budget is “a clear message to the government that we have accepted our responsibility, When we go to government looking for funding we are in a better position, having discharged our duty first.”
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan, party whip, said the increase in roads spending had been the key issue for his party, though he said they were also pleased with the other adjustments that had been negotiated by the cross-party grouping. The cut in roads maintenance in the draft budget “was actually a show-stopper for the Fianna Fáil party”, he said.
Cllr. Brogan acknowledged that the moratorium on replacing council staff also presents the council with a huge challenge.
“We need to make sure we have people at the coalface,” he said. “We need to make sure that we do frontline services because that’s exactly what people expect of us.”
In proposing that the budget be adopted as amended, Fine Gael Cllr. Barry O’Neill said he believed it was “a better deal for areas across the county”.
See page 6 for more on the council’s 2012 revenue budget.