BALANCING THE BOOKS Councillors clashed over the make-up of Mayo County Council’s 2023 budget at a meeting in Aras an Chondae on Monday afternoon.
FG councillors accused of ‘Kindergarten’ economics
FINE Gael councillors have been accused of shaky economics when proposing to make amendments to the annual Mayo County Council budget.
The €176.5 million 2023 Mayo County Council Budget was passed at yesterday’s annual budget meeting – but not before members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael traded insults over attempts by Fine Gael to add last-minute amendments.
Fine Gael party whip, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly, was accused by Fianna Fáil counterpart Cllr Damien Ryan of engaging in ‘Kindergarten’ economics when he proposed an extra €120,000 in spending to the budget.
Cllr Munnelly told the meeting that he supported amendments proposed by Cllr Ryan to increase funding for the Ballina 2023 celebrations by €100,000 to €200,000, maintenance for playgrounds by €30,000 and to ring-fence €40,000 for promotion of new routes for Ireland West Airport Knock.
However, he said they felt they could do better and proposed adding an extra €75,000 for Ballina 2023, €25,000 for beach maintenance in the county and €20,000 for maintenance of council housing.
Director of Finance, Peter Duggan told the meeting that there was no guarantees the additional €120,000 would be available, and Cllr Ryan said he could not support the extra amendments.
“It is important to put it on the record that we are looking to find another €120,000, which in my view is not there. It is coming from the side of the house which wanted to reduce the property tax by 25 percent and put a €2.2 million debt on this local authority,” replied Cllr Ryan.
“Let’s speak firm economics, because that to me is Kindergarten stuff. We have to run this council in a prudent manner… at the end of the day we are balancing books based on best practice and we are doing it in the best interests of the county, and we are taking that decision on a firm basis,” he added.
Cllr Munnelly said that the additional income could be found from rates and the property entry levy. He said that after Fianna Fáil and Independents took control of Mayo County Council in 2014, rates increased by 14 percent.
“Every councillor in this county is getting in the neck from ratepayers who are saying to them what are we getting from our rates and why are our rates so high. I will tell you why the rates are so high,” he said, before listing the years in which rates were increased.
He added: “Businesses today are still paying for those proposals [to increase rates] Cllr Ryan and Cllr [Michael] Kilcoyne made over those years.
“I am not going to take a lecture on financial frugality from people who in one council term put up a 14 percent rate increase. I stand over the proposal who have made today.”
‘Pie in the sky’
In response Cllr Ryan claimed that 78 percent of rate payers in the county were ‘cushioned’ from the rate increases because of the business support scheme brought into the council.
“We did that while his government prevailed over a cash-strapped local authority and did not give us the additional funding needed. We were left with no option. Either fold up and lose services if we didn’t balance the books, and we did balance the books,” he hit back at Cllr Munnelly.
Fellow Fianna Fáil councillor Brendan Mulroy also hit out at the Fine Gael proposal, asking ‘What sort of gob****es are we going to look like?’ if the council passes a budget without balancing the books.
Cllr Munnelly replied saying the amendment he proposed did balance and explained where the extra funding would come from.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Seamus Weir also criticised the proposed Fine Gael amendments, saying that the proposal to allocate an extra €75,000 for Ballina 2023 was ‘pie in the sky’.
A vote on Cllr Munnelly’s amendment to the budget was defeated by 15 votes to eleven, with four absentees, and Cllr Ryan’s proposal was adopted by the council.