Waterford Council is facing a “financial tsunami” if its €3.3m shortfall is not recouped, according to a local Councillor. At a Special Meeting held in Dungarvan on Thursday last, CEO Michael Walsh briefed Councillors on the need to fill a €3.3 million euro hole in their annual budget after a revaluation of Irish Water rates.The problem has arisen as a result of changes to how commercial rates on Irish Water infrastructure are calculated.
Mr Walsh explained that, proportionately, Waterford City & County Council is among the worst-affected with a €3.3m cut on the cards.Councillors outlined their fears over the impact the deficit may have on the Council’s ability to approve a Budget for 2020. Cllr Davy Daniels said he predicts a “financial tsunami” for Waterford city and county with implications “right across the board”. “Why is it always Waterford? What did we do to deserve this?” He said it’s “vital” that the Council recoup the €3.3m in full. “We’re trying to move forward and we don’t want to go backwards. No business could take a hit of €3m and survive,” he said.
Cllr Joe Kelly (Ind) said the Council “can’t just accept” the deficit when “businesses are on their knees”.
He expressed his fears that the funding shortfall would result in cuts to funding for festivals and community groups; cuts to the Council’s roads and housing maintenance programmes; and result in a significant increase in rates for businesses.Counciillors passed a motion calling for the Council to communicate with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy, to highlight that the Council will be confronted with extreme difficulties in passing a budget in the coming weeks. It was also agreed that a cross party delegation of Councillors will travel to Dublin to meet with Minister Murphy.
At the outset of last week’s meeting, Mayor of Waterford City & County Cllr John Pratt (Lab) asked that all Councillors wear the Waterford jersey.“There is an onus on us to do what we can to find a way to get the deficit removed,” he said. “None of us want to see cuts in services or hikes in rates.”Mayor Pratt said he had been contacted by Dungarvan and West Waterford Chamber of Commerce with concerns. He said many other groups have similar concerns.
Council CEO Michael Walsh outlined the situation and said he has already been in contact with the Department on the matter.
Mr Walsh explained that Waterford City & County Council is adversely affected relative to other local authorities to a disproportionate scale as a consequence of the coincidence of timing of the full revaluation exercise for the authority, the intended formation of Irish Water as a commercial entity and the amalgamation of the Waterford authorities in 2013/2014.
Cllr Jim Griffin (SF) asked if the Council would be in a better position if the issue had been flagged earlier.
In response, Mr Walsh said it would have been speculative to have highlighted the issue earlier and it wouldn’t have been helpful to put such speculation into the public domain.
Once the extent of the issue became clear, advice was taken and Councillors were advised “relatively quickly”. The possibility of taking out a loan was mooted by Cllr Seanie Power (FG). However, Mr Walsh said borrowing to address the deficit is not an option.
‘Financial ineptitude’ Cllr Matt Shanahan (Ind) pointed out that it was “ironic” that major capital announcements continue to be made for Dublin.
In particular, he referenced the new cinema on Dawson Street as well as the facelift for the Abbey Theatre. “Waterford is one of the most underfunded Councils in the country,” he said.
Cllr Conor McGuinness (SF) said the Council cannot be expected to do the “dirty work” of the government in cutting services to reduce debt.He claimed the current problems are the result of “financial ineptitude” on the part of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and “underfunding” of Waterford. “We have to face facts on where the problem originated,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cllr John Hearne (SF) described the issue as an “absolute emergency” and said any cuts would impact on “everyone we represent”.
In his 40 years as a public representative, Cllr Davy Daniels (Ind) said he has attended many budget meetings as a member of Waterford Corporation, Waterford City Council and now Waterford City & County Council. He said there had been “many bleak years where funding was very, very scare”. “At most budget meetings, the estimates were manageable. You’d tweak here and tweak there and get it over the line. We always seemed to get there,” he said.
However, Cllr Daniels said he now predicts a “financial tsunami” for Waterford with “implications right across the board for individuals, groups and organisations.”
“It’s a very serious situation,” he added.
Cllr Eddie Mulligan (FF) said he has held meetings with different groups who are experiencing “huge anxiety and frustration” as a result of the news of the deficit. “This shortfall has huge implications for the economy within Waterford City and County,” he said. “I cannot accept any increase in rates for the people who have been talking to me.”Cllr Mulligan pointed out that, as a result of the significant deficit, there is a negative image of Waterford among potential investors. “All we seem to be doing is having meetings to get people to stay in Waterford rather than pull out. As a local authority we have to stand up for Waterford,” he said.
Cllr Mulligan said some city restaurants have started closing at lunchtime because of low footfall in the city centre.
Before the meeting concluded, Counciillors passed a motion calling for the Council to communicate with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe as well as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy, to highlight that the Council will be confronted with extreme difficulties in passing a budget in the coming weeks. It was also agreed that a cross party delegation of Councillors will travel to Dublin to meet with Minister Murphy.