Friday, January 10, 2014

Contribution to 2014 Budget debate of Waterford City Counci

(I don't write speeches generally so what follows is the gist of my contribution rather than a word for word record.)

Thanks Mayor, There are both positives and negatives to this years budget which I will be supporting. My main concern was that we are introducing structural long term reductions to our income based on a one year windfall from central government. I also had a problem understanding how less was more! When the joint Waterford local authorities last year received €23.5 million and this year is only to receive €16.5 million. However I am reassured by my meetings with the Manager that the reductions are sustainable and that despite the money being less, this is accounted for by the portion of the grant heretofore which was payable to the Councils for the provision of water services which will now come via Irish Water. So I understand now how less is more. I am also happy that when in 2015 the Local Government grants is replaced by the Property Tax that there will have to be some form of equalisation as this would amount to just around €4m for the new authority!

Really the only show in town is jobs. Jobs jobs jobs. And I am delighted to see that we are putting an extra €500,000 in the Business Development Unit across the new authority. If people have jobs, they have more money in their pocket and that filters through to shops, restaurants, services and helps everybody. I would like to see a plan brought forward of what we are trying to achieve with that money. What is it for? Is it for tools? For seed funding? For grants? Who will make the decision's and what are the KPI's that will let us know we are achieving what we want with this money.

I am also glad to see that housing rents are being maintained at their current level despite the local authority being responsible for the local property tax on these homes.

I am also very pleased as Chairperson on the Cultural SPC that Waterford City Council has maintained it's support for the arts and festivals. I mean what we are doing in the city is trying to turn Waterford from a declining manufacturing economy and developing a tourist economy. And on that note, I see that 2014 is the last year of our financial commitment in clearing the Tall Ships Festival of 2011 and based on that I think Waterford should consider bidding to be the next City of Culture in Ireland in 2016 as I believe it is to be an every two years event.

Of course I also welcome the reduction in rates for businesses in the city. I have a background in retails - we always grew up having shops and of course Liam and his family had Keatings on the Quay for years which sadly didn't survive but I am very aware of the pressures of being in retail so I am glad that the rates will be going down. However there is also more to be done. Sometimes I think we operate a left hand/right hand kind of politics in Waterford. We gain with the right hand and then pull it out from under ourselves with the left hand. For example we know the type of shops that we want to come and who want to come to Waterford require larger more modern premises than are available in the city and yet there are none available. If the private sector cannot or will not come forward with these type of property solutions then I think the Council will have to bring forward a plan to address this in the near future as we did with City Square many years ago.

On the negative - and there is negative. I like others saw the posts on Facebook about the extra €5.2m that was coming from central government this year. It now turns out that it is just €4.2 million which the Manager says he will use in the main to write off the €3.1 million in capital costs that are associated this year with delivering the merger. Now when the Amalgamation Committee reported they said there was a deficit of circa €10 million between the Councils which it sought to have to government cover in order to give the new council a debt-free start. The Manager has indicated in his document that the budget deficits across the authorities are actually €15 million. Nothing has been provided from central government to cover this and we will have to borrow and pay it back over many years. So just to be aware that this will be a legacy of the amalgamation.

And on that, we are closing a chapter. A chapter on 1100 years of the independent self-governance of Waterford city. I do regret that and I wouldn't have sold that for €4.3 million or, indeed, for any price.

Thank you.