05 Dec 2021

Offaly County Council adopts "positive" 2022 budget and keeps commercial rates unchanged

Offaly County Council ratifies draft budget for 2019 - spending increased by €4.5m

Offaly County Council has managed to draw up a positive budget for 2022 in spite of very challenging times.

IN spite of challenging times Offaly County Council has managed to draw up a positive budget of €72 million for the county in 2022.
The budget was unanimously adopted by the councillors during their annual budget meeting on Monday afternoon. Several councillors told the meeting that they thought it's a very decent budget, and therefore positive for the people of the county, in spite of Covid-19 and the huge uncertainty that it's generating. The budget will maintain the commercial rates at their current level.
One councillor said this year’s budget, representing an expenditure of €72 million, presents a commendable road map for the coming year.
Speaking on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, Cllr Peter Ormond pointed out that this year’s budget, like 2021, is being prepared against the background of Covid-19; and the pandemic has led to uncertainty in the finances of local authorities, coupled with uncertainty in other markets closely associated with Offaly.
"On Page 4 of the Chief Executive's Report," Cllr Ormond continued, "there is a list of projects that we made significant progress with during 2021. We must continue with that level of progress and ensure we have a pipeline of projects ready to proceed and we must, as elected representatives, continue to drive that. There is a wide range of projects throughout the county and it is welcome to see so many projects that will improve the quality of facilities in our respective communities."
The Council has agreed that the Local Property fund will be reserved for economic development purposes. Therefore, in Birr MD, LPT money is going towards the Kinnitty ORIS Initiative and the Ferbane Rural Regeneration Project. In Tullamore the LPT funds are being directed towards the Street Enhancement and Urban Renewal of the town and in Edenderry Municipal District, there is the Masterplan Development for Phase Two of the Library-Link Road development. The combined total investment in these schemes is €3,973,614 and Offaly County Council were able to put €745,434 forward as match funding. "These are significant investments in our county," commented Cllr Ormond, "and I would like to thank the councillors who took this decision again in July of this year. The proposal before us today would not have been possible without an additional payment of €1.7m from the Department because of the loss of commercial rates following the closure of West Offaly Power Station. Last year, we proposed that we open the lines of communication with the Department and make sure this rates rebate of €1.7 million becomes a permanent fixture in our central allocation from the Department and we reiterate that point here today."
The councillors also welcomed the fact that the Municipal District Allowance for each Municipal District is retained at the 2021 Levels of €163,000 for Edenderry MD, €170,000 for Birr MD and €177,000 for the Tullamore MD. This funding is important as it is discretionary funding for each MD and allows the councillors to focus on local priorities and community initiatives.
The councillors pointed out that housing remains a challenge for Offaly County Council, in spite of significant progress across several developments. "We welcome the Government's recent 'Housing for All' Policy," stated the Fianna Fáil groups statement. "It is important that we continue in a positive manner to let our houses out to prospective tenants in a timely fashion. We welcome the extra €360,000 additional expenditure for the pre-lets. We have all seen an increase in maintenance requests and the extra €88,000 in expenditure is welcome along with the planned maintenance expenditure of €160,000. We welcome that the Housing Adaptation Grants and Housing Aid for the elderly for Private dwellings are being maintained at the current level of funding. This year, we will spend more than €1.6 million on this scheme and we would like to thank the staff for their efforts in the process. This scheme is associated with match funding and while we examined the potential to put more funding into these grants, the Department have informed us that this is the maximum we will receive for the current year. We have all seen an increase in planning applications over the last 12 months along with a considerable increase in the price of housing projects, supply chain issues and limited availability of contractors. Last year, we expressed concern about our own housing stock when it comes to Housing Adaptation Grants. Thankfully, the department increased the figure during the year to €932,453 and we were able to provide the match funding. We would ask that our housing section consult with the Department again to provide the same level of funding for 2022."
Cllr Declan Harvey, Cathaoirleach, said the LPT is very important to the Council and the people of the county. "Because of the LPT many projects in towns and villages throughout the county are being funded. The property tax is helping our county immensely. That is why we are supporting it."
Anna Marie Delaney warned that if the government stops giving the Council €1.7 million in lieu of the rates from the former Shannonbridge Power Station then the Council will be hit with a very serious Rates shortfall which will mean a reduction in services.
She reminded everyone that the Council's Local Enterprise Office has a range of supports for SMEs.
She said there was good news in the fact that the local authority has received nearly a million Euro extra in funding for the retrofitting programme.
Mark Connolly of the Finance department in the Council said framing a decent and balanced budget for 2022 had been "extremely challenging because of Covid-19, and the closure of Shannonbridge Power Station." He mentioned the ongoing impact of Brexit and the global rollout of the decarbonisation programme as being among the other challenges to drawing up a balanced budget.
He said Covid had resulted in the shutdown of the economy over a protracted period of time. This in turn led to the reduction or cessation of revenue streams for the Council including rates, parking fees and planning fees. He said the government hasn't yet made up the shortfall for the loss of this traditional revenue streams. He warned that there is the threat of Covid worsening in the coming months and with the return of restrictions and lockdowns, which will mean in turn having to revisit the budget and tightening belts. He added that there are quite a few court cases ongoing at the moment where members of the public are contesting the commercial rates being imposed on them on the Council. He said the Council executive has received no correspondence or intimation about possible future lockdowns.
Mr Connolly added that tackling the housing problem remains the biggest challenge for the Council.
He also said that the Council's budget for Birr Theatre & Arts Centre will increase from €38,000 to €45,000.
Cllr Liam Quinn warned that when electric cars become more commonplace this will mean a big reduction in motor tax, which will negatively impact on the national exchequer and, by extension, on the local authorities' budgets.
Cllr Danny Owens said the 2022 Budget is "a very positive budget." It includes a sum of money for the building and running costs of Tullamore Arts Centre.
Cllr John Carroll said budget day is one of the most important days in a Councillor's calendar. He criticised the government for failing to tackle the housing problem. He said the "Housing for All" hasn't yet produced the positive change that it claims it will.
Cllr Mark Hackett said he's very glad to see the Council is increasing its climate action funding.
"The maintenance of our roads has always been a priority for Offaly County Council," commented Cllr Ormond, "and the roads which are constructed over peat represent a challenge. It is important that we continue to maintain our roads, to be able to fill the pot holes, carry out flood relief works, hedge cutting at appropriate times and carry out essential repairs. For this reason, we welcome the additional allocation of €210,000 for our county roads allocation. The maintenance of our graveyards is made up of a hybrid model with many different models used throughout the county. The increase in funding to €45,000 to assist in maintaining graveyards is very welcome. We get tremendous value for that money and we would like to thank the volunteers right throughout the county for the efforts in maintaining the graveyards. We would also like to thank Mary Hussey and Mark Finlay for their assistance to these groups.  We welcome that we can maintain the level of funding announced last year to all our front-line services. We are also able to support our libraries and the extra €10,000 for the Library book fund is particularly welcome. We also welcome the funding for the arts sector, our swimming pools and the community Development section." 

Cllr Ormond also welcomed the operational funding of €100,000 for the new Arts Centre in Tullamore. "Every new Arts Centre needs funding to survive in its infancy and it is important that we provide this money to get the centre up and running and into a trading position to draw down grants from other sources. We also acknowledge the contribution of Birr Theatre and Arts Centre and we hope that in the coming years, we will have two top class arts centres providing quality entertainment to our communities. We are proposing to increase Birr Theatre's funding from €38k to 45k for the coming year. The funding is not putting one against the other but rather assisting both at different stages of their development. The last 12 months have been very difficult for doing business in our county, particular in the small SME and hospitality sector. This council has provided many supports in implementing various schemes from the Department and I would like to thank the staff from the Finance/Enterprise Section for their work in this matter. We as a council must continue to provide the supports for businesses and we welcome the €50,000 extra for the Local Enterprise Office Initiatives. The Small SMEs are the lifeblood of our county and we must continue to support them in every way possible. We welcome that there is no increase in commercial rates for 2022. The budget presented before us today is a positive budget for the county, given the context that it was prepared in. The discretionary element of the budget represents only 9% of the total budget and there are many items we would all like to have in the budget. However, we must prudent, we must work within our means and adopt a balanced budget. To conclude Cathaoirleach, I am proposing that we adopt the budget presented to us here today with the increase of €7k for Birr Theatre and Arts Centre. Thank You." 


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