Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Local govt reform welcome but funding issues need to be addressed

Outstanding issues related to legacy debt of Town Councils and an increase in funding in line with population

Speaking on the Local Government Bill 2013 in the Dáil, Fine Gael Meath East Deputy, Regina Doherty, said that while local government reform is long overdue, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure that Meath is operating on a fair and equal playing field to other jurisdictions.

“The radical reform of the local government system that is underway represents the biggest shake-up of local government in the history of the State, which will result in greater efficiencies and improved service delivery for the people. There are a number of issues, however, relating to funding that need to be addressed in county Meath.

“In a move which will see the number of Councillors reduced by 42% nationally and the number of Councils being reduced from 114 to 31, at a cost saving of €420 million, Meath County Council will at last have our population size reflected in the number of Councillors that will be elected, with 40 members set to be elected to the Council. Unfortunately, this proportional representation is not being extended to our funding allocation which remains the same.

“As one of the fastest growing ‘commuter belt’ counties which ballooned in population over the last 10-15 years, and especially so during the Celtic Tiger years, the local government funding for Meath has not seen a corresponding increase in financial resources for the administration of local government functions. If comparisons are made with other counties of much smaller population size, it is often the case that they get the same amount of funding as Meath; a situation that is wholly unacceptable. 

“When it comes to the dissolution of Town Councils, the responsibility for which will be subsumed into the County Councils, legacy debt is a cause for concern in some instances. Meath currently has three Town Councils which will be abolished next May. Each of them carries quite considerable deficits which, if carried over to the County Council will significantly hinder the new administration, placing a millstone around its neck.

“I am calling on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan TD, to take these issues into consideration so that the best path forward can be chartered for the people of Meath. For decades, reform of the local government structure was ignored by Fianna Fáil. The whole point of local government reform is to ensure that our local Councils deliver better services for their citizens.  Confidence in local government needs to be restored and this Bill genuinely lays the foundations for that to happen. In order to maximise the impact these far-reaching reforms have on the people of Meath, these legacy debt and funding issues will need to be addressed.” 

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