COUNCIL MEETING

"Chaotic" Louth Council budget meeting signal of bigger issues

Councillors spent around four and a half hours battling to pass amendments to the 2019 Council Budget

Tia Clarke

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Tia Clarke

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tia.clarke@dundalkdemocrat.ie

"Chaotic" Louth Council budget meeting signal of bigger issues

Dundalk councillors spent around four and a half hours battling to pass amendments to the 2019 Council Budget

Last Sunday night’s “chaotic” council meeting is symptomatic of a wider problem, according to a number of local councillors.

During the meeting, councillors spent around four and a half hours battling to pass amendments to the 2019 Council Budget in what has been branded as a “fractious”, “antagonistic” and “difficult” process by various councillors.

Sinn Fein Cllr Anne Campbell said: “This is the second budget that I’ve experienced and last years meeting was the same. This shouldn’t be the way. It signals a wider problem.

“The root of the problem is that there is not enough money coming to Louth from central Government, and the amount is getting smaller every year.”

Fianna Fail Cllr Emma Coffey added: “Until the Government increases Local Authority funding this problem will arise each year. There has been no increase authority funding since 2014.”  

Local county councillors have spoken of their relief after a consensus was reached on the Louth County Council 2019 Budget following four and a half-hours of ‘fraught’ talks on Sunday (December 2) evening.

The vote hung on a knife-edge, as councillors rejected the proposals at two meetings previously and finally agreed just before the deadline.

At 10.30pm it was declared that an amended budget has finally been passed. The vote was split at 14-14, with chairman Cllr Liam Reilly casting the deciding vote in favour. Among the changes will be an increase in pay parking in Dundalk to €1.10 per hour.

Local Green Party Cllr Mark Dearey told the Democrat: “It was an incredibly arduous process and was made far more chaotic than it needed to be.”

Cllr Dearey explained that some of the figures presented to councillors were “extremely inaccurate which caused “chaos for an hour” until they were recalculated.

He said: “Chief Executive Joan Martin had to step in at the last minute. This could have been done months ago.”

The local cllr added that “members were rightly outraged” when the Chief Executive expressed “utter exasperation” and said that members were not sufficiently prepared for the meeting.

Cllr Dearey added: “I thought it was very telling when Joan said ‘you’ve had months to consider this budget, since September, and I haven’t received a single call’ and Paul Bell replied ‘the phone works in both directions’.

“Politics is about relationships, clear communication and respect - something which is in short supply here at the minute.”

Local Sinn Fein Cllr Anne Campbell said: “The interactions with the Chief Executive Joan Martin were fraught and less than fruitful. It was very, very difficult for all of the councillors to come together and try to reach a solution and try to get some constructive co-operation from the chief executive. It was a very frustrating process.”

Speaking of the contentious pay parking hike Cllr Campbell said she was “not for” the increase which has seen prices rise from €1 to €1.10 and said that it was “at odds” with the Council’s aim to get more shoppers into Dundalk town centre over the festive period.

Fianna Fail Cllr Emma Coffey said: “The original budget proposed a rise in pay parking to €1.20 for both Drogheda and Dundalk and Drogheda paying for long stay carparks at a lower rate than Dundalk. This was rejected. 

"Eventually, after some debate and negotiations, a budget was passed which saw both towns parking rate go to €1.10 and long stay parking in Drogheda of €1. There are additional cuts to discretionary expenditure to bring this about. I can’t say that this was something that was easy to do and it is not ideal.

“However, unless and until Govt increases Local Authority funding this problem will arise each year. There has been no increase in Local authority funding since 2014.”