Monday, May 18, 2009

Well Well! Auction Politics Have Begun.

I see now Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are vying with each other not to increase rates for the next however many years (depending on which party you are listening to). What a fine to-do and why are Fine Gael playing the same stupid game as Fianna Fáil?

That's great. Hold the rates if you will; as long as you replace the lost funding to run the nuts and bolts of local infrastructure that is the responsibility of Local Government with something. This, however, I suspect, is not the case.

Let me put this into perspective and argue why it is not good or responsible politics but is, in fact something which ransoms all of our futures in the name of electoral gain. Because thats the only gain in this for anybody. There's no gain in this for the man or woman in the street:

This City (Waterford) cost about €62 million to run last year. Of that, the government contributed around €8 million. The rest was raised through rates (mostly), parking and development charges. As we all know, the backside has fallen out of the development business so you can kiss any development charges goodbye. The government grant is contracting - and due to get even smaller. Now the rates promise (which by the way no party is likely to be able to implement as they aren't even running enough candidates to 'control' any councils) would likely strangle local government activity for God know how long. But sure, to national parties, Local Government is expendable.

That is until you wonder who is keeping the water running, or the waste flowing, or the traffic moving, or the roads surfaced, or the local playground in repair, or the library open, or the bins collected, or your son or daughter housed, or the flooding at bay, or the fire service on call, or the grass cut, or the streets cleaned, or the festivals funded, or the street market serviced, or the museum open, or the visitors coming to the marina, or the golf club open till dusk etc. etc. etc.

It's only when these and other services start to fall apart that we might question as to whether freezing rates is really the best thing for your environment or your community or your family. In the eighties, the Haughey Government cut 25% of hospital beds out of the system and they are still playing catch up since then, trying to plaster over the cracks. And while that no doubt, saved money in the short term, did it give us a better health service?

They are now, in the absence of plugging the gap (and if they are, then I take all this back, but somehow I can't see it happening) proposing to cut the investment of local government in all of the above mentioned services and many more. Is that a forward move? Is that going to make our enviroment better? Is that going to improve your quality of life?

In my opinion it is disgraceful, auction politics that is short-sighted and selling off your quality of life for their electoral salvation. Don't fall for it. I'm amazed at Fine Gael for dancing to this FF crazy tune. No-one wins if the city suffers and that includes businesses who think that freezing rates might be a good thing. What they may gain in one hand, they will surely lose with the other.

The photo above shows the Tall Ships visit to Waterford in 2005 which is due to return in 2011. Events like this cost money but the returns for the business community (amongst others) are enormous. We need to take a long view and invest in this and other beneficial projects for our city. Short term gain (for FF or FG) only leads to long term pain (for you) in this instance.

And anyway, it is undoable. If the City & County Managers cannot get a budget through the councils which give them adequate money to run their respective authorites, then they can simply adopt the budget over the elected members heads. (Thanks to that power being given to them by, yes, you've guessed it - central government!) So this debate is farcical on many levels.

But you don't hear the merits or otherwise debated. They'd rather hold our futures hostage - for a few desperate headlines.

Is it true? Are they all as bad as each other?

And anyway, in the current climate, rates increases may not be necessary with costs falling. Also, bear in mind that the rates in Waterford City last year were only raised by 0.6% on the insistence of the elected members in order to assist the business community. So its a moot point.

One way or another, when you read those headlines ask yourself: who gains? If its a political party, then be very suspicious indeed. Be under no illusions, their priority is themselves - and not you or your families future. Don't be fooled by the shiny lights. They're only there to distract you from the real issues. I trust and I hope that the electorate are more sophisticated than that.

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