TEMPERS flared during the annual estimates meeting as members of Donegal County Council failed to agree on passing a budget for 2014 late on Wednesday evening.
Amid growing fears over water price hikes and services due to the transfer of water services to Irish Water, rate pressures on hard pressed businesses’ and curtailment of key sectoral services, members failed to broker a deal.
As a result they failed to reach any agreement on passing a budget of over 138 million- an increase of over 5 million from 2013.
Instead, they are to return again on Monday, January 6 in an effort to strike a deal and pass the budget.
The adjournment comes despite a proposed rates freeze amid calls from businesses’ across the county for a reduction of up to 25 per cent. Businesses’ have threatened a rates boycott if this does not materialise.
The budget meeting also came as the Dail discusses legislation to formally establish Irish Water, which is due to take over the council’s responsibility for water services from January 1st.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan has confirmed a General Purpose grant of just under 54 million euro for Donegal in 2014, up 6.6 million up last year’s figure.
However, there is growing uncertainty over how the transition to Irish Water in two weeks time will impact on the council’s finances.
Due to the challenging economic climate and financial cuts, the council plans further swingeing cutbacks across a range of services.
The meeting was described by Fianna Fail Councillor Rena Donaghey as nothing more than a ‘political point scoring circus’.
Despite a proposed rates freeze by management and a total revenue budget of 138 million- up 5 million on last year- members failed to find agreement.
This was mainly due to the growing uncertainty around water services agreements as part of the transfer to Irish Water and calls for urgent rates reductions for hard pressed businesses’ in the county
Members of Fianna Fail called for an urgent rates reduction for businesses’ and clarity around the Service Level Agreements with Irish Water around water prices, metering and the acquisition of the water and waste water infrastructure-assets belonging to the council.
While Fianna Fail Councillors did not specify an amount of the proposed rates reduction they were seeking, their local TD Charlie McConalogue said earlier in the day businesses across the county were looking for a 25 per cent cut or many would ‘go to the wall’
However, opposing any such moves, Fine Gael Councillor John Ryan accused Fianna Fail of playing politics and called on the party members to ‘get real’ on rate reductions instead of engaging in rhetoric without facts or figures.
Fianna Fail party whip Cllr Ciaran Brogan claimed the council’s finances were operating in a vacum due to the lack of clarity around water services and rates fears which was leaving the council executive in a financial conundrum.
At times tempers reached boiling point during several hours where in the words of one member that political ‘scud missiles’ were being fired across the room by representatives of the political parties.
Independent councillor and former Mayor Frank McBrearty walked out of the meeting in protest following heated exchanges and legal threats with members of Fianna Fail (see page..)
He also alleged ‘games were being played’ over proposed rates reductions for businesses’ claiming it would cost the council over 5.4 million to implement a 25 per cent rates reduction