CORK County Council has passed a €344m budget following a tense five-hour meeting.
Rows broke out between councillors and the local authority’s executive on whether the Council’s reserve of €7.34m should be dipped into to deliver more services.
County Hall chief executive and head of finance Loraine Lynch strongly advised against amendments tabled by Sinn Fein of up to €2.8m with the Council already having to use €3m of its surplus to balance the books.
Ms Lynch said there is an expected rates yield of €133m – an increase €1.3m on 2018 but also alluded to a long-standing legal case which she said is bound by confidentiality but had cost the Council €5.7m and had reduced the Council’s reserves to €7.34m.
“We don’t want to be reliant on a surplus to balance the books. €3m represents only 1% of the draft budget. This is not an unusual event,” she added.
Seamus McGrath (FF) said the increase in budget spend is welcome but is set against additional costs.
Fianna Fáil's proposed that €500,000 of adjustments be made with €100,000 allocated for school wardens and €400,000 for outdoor staff at local area office with the money to be taken from economic development and tourism.
“These adjustments are quite small in the overall scheme of things. If we find it difficult to make such minor adjustments, that speaks volumes about local government,” said Mr McGrath.
Ms Lynch said she would have concerns with any reduction of €500,000 to the economic development fund which would have a “detrimental effect” on tourism, festivals and heritage projects.
Melissa Mullane (SF) said she is “very disappointed” to see €3m taken out of reserves to balance the budget.
“It’s not good accounting when the trend is that we’ve always had a surplus. The bulk of the money taking from reserves was due to a legal case. It was surprising to councillors to find out our there was a major amount of money taken out in a settlement,” she said.
Sinn Fein tabled a number of budget amendments amounting to €2.8m including extra disability grants for social housing tenants to deal with backlogs amounting to €600,000; the council’s footpath programme to receive an extra €250,000, its public lighting programme to receive an extra €250,000; €200,000 to employ four extra tenancy support workers; extra emergency repairs for social housing of €200,000 and extra social housing planned maintenance €200,000.
Ms Lynch said she would have “significant concerns” about this as it would reduce the council’s reserve down to less than a €1m.
After talks with the chief executive, Ms Lynch said funds could be found of up to €606,000 for amendments. This was supported by Fine Gael.
An amendment tabled by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin sought to increase this to €750,000 with the shortfall coming from the council’s economic development fund. This included €200,000 for disability, €100,000 for homeless services; €300,000 for local area offices, €100,000 for school wardens and €50,000 for national monuments.
Further cross-party talks saw Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Fine Gael agree on amendments of €606,000 with €100,000 for disability grants, €100,000 for tenancy support workers, €230,000 for area office workers, €100,000 for school wardens and €50,000 for national monuments.