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Banner budget passes at first attempt

AFTER three and half-hours of debate, Clare County Council passed their budget for 2014 on Wednesday evening.

As is so often the case nowadays, the relative lack of finances proved a stumbling block, and Councillor James Breen proposed delaying the budget, until Clare was allocated more money from the Local Government Fund. His proposal was seconded by Councillor Tommy Brennan on condition that it also call for money raised in property taxes in Clare over the last two years to be returned to the county.

After being questioned by Councillors, County Manager Tom Coughlan told the members that the local authority has 21 days to pass a budget from its first meeting. If that deadline were to pass, the Council would face the prospect of being dissolved and functions taken over by the Department of the Environment.

Mr Coughlan made it clear he didn’t believe there was any realistic chance of any more money arriving, simply because it was being sought. “It’s a matter for your selves but the information from the Department is pretty categorical. That is the allocation.”

The manager also pointed out that if Clare sought and demanded more money, every other county would try to follow its lead. Mayor of Clare Joe Arkins also agreed that it was very unlikely more funds would appear.

Ultimately the Council did pass the budget, with 20 of the 27 Councillors present in favour, with the other seven against. As well as Councillors Breen and Brennan, others to oppose it were Michael Hillery, Pat Hayes, Cathal Crowe, PJ Kelly and Bill Chambers.

Predictably, the budget made no change to the commercial rates multiplier for the coming year.

The budget document states; “As in previous years, due to the level of income available to the Council to maintain existing services, it is not possible to provide for a decrease in the rates multiplier in 2014. A reduction in the rates multiplier has been raised by the elected members on numerous occasions, but such a decrease would have a serious negative impact on the ability of the Council to deliver services. While the Council must make every effort to collect the income due, nevertheless, we will continue to engage with rates payers who are experiencing genuine difficulty as a result of the economic downturn.”

The budget states that the Council won’t know until next month how much it will receive from central Government in terms of grant allocations for expenditure on roads.

During Wednesday evening’s meeting there was talk that the amount available will be down by a full 25% on last year’s figure, but Mr Coughlan said it’s too early to tell if that will be the case.

“There is no confirmation of a 25% reduction,” he said, before adding that there had been rumours that there had been earlier rumours of a 33% reduction in another allocation, which ultimately proved incorrect.

However he also made it clear he wasn’t ruling out the possibility that the cut may in fact be very significant. “There are suggestions that they may be a serious reduction but at this stage I can’t confirm that.”

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