Waterford City & County Council is to seek emergency funding from central government after its book balancing budget for 2016 was thrown off kilter by a new State-wide business rate re-evaluation process.
The news, which broke just days after City & County CEO Michael Walsh had recommended no change to local authority charges for the year ahead, currently means there’s a funding gap of €1,134,000 in the Council coffers.
The news, which was formally broken to Councillors at a workshop meeting held on Tuesday last, prompted the fielding of two last-minute motions at the plenary meeting of the local authority, which was held in Dungarvan last Thursday.
The motions, which both addressed the potential budgetary shortfall, were merged into one after unanimous agreement was reached by Councillors.
Suggesting the following wording, Mayor John Cummins (FG) stated: “In light of the global utility re-evaluation, this Council calls on Government to put emergency funding in place for support in ensuring a balanced budget for 2016 and that in future the global utility re-evaluation would only form part of the overall evaluation process, and that the outcome of any such process must be notified to Council not less than three months prior to the statutory budget process.”
Mayor Cummins told Cllr MJ O’Ryan (FF) that he had permitted the motion through existing standing order protocols given that it represented “urgent business” that the Council clearly had to address.
Reacting to the news, Senator David Cullinane (SF) said that in the absence of a central government ‘bailout’, councils would have one of three difficult choices to make to bridge the shortfall: “cutting services, increasing the business rate on small businesses or by increasing the property tax.”
He added: “That this would happen at a time when local authorities are strapped for cash, dealing with the housing and homelessness crisis is shocking.
“Logic dictates that the gap will likely be closed through a combination of rates hikes affecting smaller struggling businesses and cuts to services. There will also be enormous pressure on councils to jack up the property tax. The Government needs to resolve this through the development of a progressive business rate that is revenue neutral and supports indigenous SMEs.”
We sought a comment from Minister of State Paudie Coffey on this matter but none had been received as we went to press.