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Household charge ‘an excuse’ to slash

Household charge ‘an excuse’ to slash

Council could face ‘savage’ cuts

Anton McNulty

The Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, has been accused of using the non-payment of the household charge to introduce ‘savage’ cuts to local authority services. Road maintenance and housing grants for the elderly will likely be in the line of fire.
The Government announced last month that Mayo County Council’s budget was to be reduced by €2.6 million for the remainder of the year due to the non-payment of the household charge. Over 60 per cent of those eligible to pay the charge in Mayo have done so. Details of these cuts will be outlined at the Council’s September meeting.

‘No justification’

Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne told The Mayo News that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is using the household charge as ‘an excuse’ to cut local authority budgets, and he called on members of the council to resist it.
“I understand that cuts will be to road repairs, hedge-cutting, housing repairs, housing grants for older people … I understand that every aspect of Council spending will be viewed for cuts, which is savage. The Local Government Fund has been reduced by €2.6 million but even if every person who has not paid pays, the total payment it will still be less [than that figure].”
Of the 52,000 eligible households in Mayo, 20,280 (39 percent) have not paid the charge. This has led to a shortfall of just over €2 million for the Government.
“Fine Gael councillors will probably support the cuts, but they should bear in mind there will be local elections in less than two years,” added Cllr Kilcoyne, who said he paid the household charge, but he believes there are a number of ‘genuine people’ who are unable to pay it. He criticised Minister Hogan for not having any realisation of their plight and for ‘not caring’.

Council tight-lipped
A number of other County Councils have outlined areas where cuts will be made. Roscommon County Council recently agreed to cut services in areas such as road maintenance, litter and library services by €436,000.
Mayo County Secretary John Condon refused to be drawn on where the cuts will be made in Mayo, saying that changes to the budget will be discussed at the September meeting.
“We will be dealing with that at the September meeting of the Council,” he told The Mayo News. “We have decided that the first people informed will be the elected members, and we intend to do that in the September meeting. The councillors are the people who will amend the budget and they need to be briefed before we go public.”
Mr Condon also urged those who have not paid the charge to do so soon in order to prevent further cuts to the Council’s budget.
The executive of Mayo County Council expressed disappointment with the announcement that the Local Government fund was to be cut by €2.6 million, and it planned to appeal the figure. When asked by The Mayo News if the Council had negotiated a reduction in the cut with the Department of the Environment, Mr Condon was non-committal.

‘Bully-boy tactics’
Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh also criticised Minister Hogan accusing him of ‘bully-boy’ tactics by making these cuts and using the non-payment of the household charge as justification.
“Bully-boys tactics are being used to get people to pay the household charge, but I believe he was always going to cut the budget. We have already had cuts to the local government with cuts last year in term of roads and housing, and now he is trying to force people to pay. I am not going to second guess what cuts will be made, but Mayo County Council should be strong in not allowing further cuts to essential services that will affect vulnerable people,” she said.

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