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Council budget for 2015 unanimously agreed

TG4 picture of council budget estimates

BY C.J.MCGINLEY
AFTER 12 hours of mostly behind closed diplomacy Donegal County Council has agreed to adopt, without any changes, the budget proposed by management for 2015.

The budget was unanimously passed by 31 votes to one after 10 pm on Tuesday following a mundane budget meeting that included seven adjournments.

Following a detailed briefing by the CEO, Mr Seamus Neely and Director of Finance, Mr Garry Martin a series of behind closed door meetings between party members and senior management took place throughout the early afternoon and late evening before the members finally agreed a budget to spend just over €131 million next year.

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While the council will have €17 million less to spend than in 2014, there was cross party support to ‘work together’ as a team to meet the shortfalls from national exchequer.

With the broad agreement by members not to increase commercial rates there was little scope for any adjustments or extra funding across sectors including roads and housing .

However, the council has agreed to seek an urgent meeting with the Minister for Environment, Mr Alan Kelly TD and senior government figures to push for extra national exchequer funding in 2015.

The plans will targeted at increasing funding for roads and housing in Donegal.

The CEO, Mr Seamus Neely has acknowledged there are significant ‘funding gaps’ but a number of ‘exceptional measures’ had been deployed in the budget to tackle this problem.

Savings targeted include €1.5 million in purchasing power for goods and services and a controversial proposal to cut the specific roads grant by €1.4 million. The overall cut to the roads budget is €4 million.

The executive is also deferring an additional €981,000 in principal payments on certain Non-Mortgage loans and reducing by €1.1 million ‘the amount from non recurring inter-authority activity’.

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The council is also planning to collect €2.6 million in NPPR charges in 2015 and saving €1.4 million from the sale of housing assets retained by the council to balance the books.

The executive also plan not to pay principal on certain mortgage loans. Instead they will pay interest only saving €2.6 million in 2015.

Mr Neely said while the financial challenges would curtail ‘expansion’ there was an opportunity to ‘build on what has been achieved in a planned and structured manner’.

Of the €131 million to be next year 34 per cent of this will be on payroll and staff costs. Last year the council spent a total of €148.9 million.

The Chief Executive Officer, Mr Seamus Director of Finance, Mr Garry Martin and senior council official held talks with the representatives of Fianna Fail and Independents who have 11 and 10 elected members respectively early on Tuesday afternoon.

By late evening on Tuesday the shifted talks to the nine Sinn Fein representatives and the seven elected councillors from the Fine Gael party.

With €17 million less to spend than in 2014 and it will cause financial headaches for members and staff as they strike to balance the books and develop services in 2015.

It came against the backdrop of what the County Manager had described in a detailed briefing on Tuesday morning as the significant ‘financial challenges’ the council faced in 2015 to maintain front line services and foster economic activity.

For the first time in five years the council is planning to recruit 15-20 extra workers next year to ‘prepare plans’ for individual projects in roads, housing and tourism and capital projects if they arise.

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