The number of road gritting machines operating in the county this winter will be halved, according to the county council engineers.
At the monthly meeting Dundalk municipal district, it was revealed that the machines will be reduced from seven to four in a cost-cutting exercise that will create €160,000 in savings.
Mr Gerry Kelly, senior roads engineer, said the amalgamation of the three former local authority bodies within the county under the local government reform, meant the gritting of roads had to be re-organised under one umbrella. But he said the service will be more efficient and will not be hindered by urban boundaries.
The staff and unions had agreed to the new arrangements and the quality of service will be as efficient.
Chief executive Joan Martin said she could not discuss this cost-saving measure during the county council debates on the local property tax as talks with the unions were taking place at that time.
However, Sinn Fein councillor Tomás Sharkey did not see how cutting back on the number of machine and lorries could create a more efficient service.
“We’re going down from seven machines to four,” Cllr Sharkey said. “That does not add up. And there will be just one instead of two operators on each machine. I’m very worried about that.”
Chief executive Joan Martin said the amount of gritting carried out would be the same as last year, or whatever is required.
Gerry Kelly, senior engineer, said over half the county councils in country now have one man per machine operations.
“We are just playing catch up,” he said. “By organising routes in a more efficient way, it is possible to provide a better service.
“The unions have agreed to the proposal. The people of Louth will be saving 160,000 per annum. Less rest time will be needed.
“There is nothing for anybody to worry about. The quality of service will be as good.”
Cllr Declan Breathnach, Fianna Fail, said he hoped it would be possible to include extra routes to ensure people would not be driving for long periods on unsalted roads.
This point was also raised during the week by Fine Gael councillor Dolores Minogue.
Cllr Minogue, who represents the municipal district of Ardee, said she would have real concerns that the almost fifty-per-cent reduction in machines would affect country areas.
“I am very concerned about this issue because it came up during the recent local elections. People are worried that with the re-organisation of the council staff and savings such as this, that country areas could lose out.
“It’s the people who are driving to work over longer distances that are worried and we need to know exactly what is going on.
“Why was this not raised by the council management during the debate on the local property tax cuts and the implication for the budget.
“Councillors need to know what is going on,” she said.