Councillors detail spending priorities for 2011
In offering support to County Manager Seamus Neely and his team for the council's draft revenue budget, party whips and others also identified spending issues they will look at in 2011.
Fianna Fil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan said housing grants will be a "huge issue" for his party. The 2001 budget includes a council contribution of 500,000 euro for the grants, which will be leveraged into 2.5 million euro for the programme, a sum the council executive said was sufficient to meet county needs.
Cllr. Brogan also said the party had also sought a reduction in the volumetric water charge, perhaps to 150 euro. But he acknowledged "huge efforts made by water and environment in the last 12 months" and commended the increase in revenue collected this year compared to 2009.
Water charges remain at 2010 levels in 2011, with volumetric charges at 2.31 euro per litre and the standing charge at 175 euro. Reductions in one would require increases in the other, councillors heard.
"It is a very good budget book in the current climate," Cllr. Brogan said.
Fine Gael Cllr. Terence Slowey said the community investment fund adopted on Monday must benefit all electoral areas. He said he would like to see a detailed analysis of council expenditures during the year and called on the council to address more forcefully issues of energy conservation. While acknowledging that the housing section "has made a start in that area in terms of housing being constructed," Cllr. Slowey said he wanted to see the council put renewable energy into council buildings, "so we can set an example to other industries."
The Fine Gael councillor also called on the executive to ensure the council was not renting premises for space that it could provide through its own holdings and questioned whether there was scope for increasing revenue from the second-home levy by identifying additional properties. The 2011 budget includes an increase of 400,000 euro in revenue from the levy, to 3.2 million euro.
Sinn Fin Cllr. Pdraig MacLochlainn said the budget reflected priorities that elected members presented to the manager. He said that the projected savings of 4 million euro through adjusted procurement procedures is "an ambitious target, and I think it can be done."
But he said there were "sobering figures" in the budget, noting that in recent years the council has lost 344 staff members, more than 20 percent of staff. He said his party had sought a drop in the standing water charge, but since that would have necessitated a hike of up to 7 percent in the volumetric charge, the measure could have undermined the benefit of the rates cut.
"In the current economic climate it has been a remarkable achievement to have a situation where the county manager presents to members a 3.5 per cent cut in commercial rates," Cllr. MacLochlainn said.
Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr., said water rates needed further review. "Either the standing charge is too high or consumption levels allowed under that standing charge ought to be increased," Cllr. McBrearty said. Acknowledging that it was the manager's remit to set the charges, he said, "Water rates should be looked at and looked at seriously, because the standing charge is too high."
Independent Cllr. Ian McGarvey said tourism initiatives deserved more support and continued his call for council funding of the Donegal Ancestry Centre in Ramelton. He said the centre should benefit from the new investment fund councillors approved on Monday.
Independent Cllr. Thomas Pringle said that he will target services the council supports "that aren't really any part of our responsibility." For example, courthouse maintenance will cost the council 76,990 euro in 2011, and coroner and inquest costs will cost 299,960. "It's all a net cost to the council," Cllr. Pringle said. "That's one of the things I'll be taking up in the new year."