The future of paid parking in Longford town looks set to be finally resolved this week as councillors prepare to hold a special meeting on the issue.
Elected members agreed to thrash out the issue for once and for all following a heated Town Council meeting last Wednesday evening which led to angry exchanges between Mayor Peggy Nolan and Cllr Mae Sexton.
The pair became embroiled in a row after it emerged the local authority risked losing up to €15,000 each month if elected members agreed to a chamber of commerce plea to waive parking fees on Saturdays over the next three months.
Cllr Nolan questioned the wisdom of sanctioning such a move, a view which was hardened when Cllr Sexton suggested extending the proposal to December.
“My concern is that deficit will have to be picked up by the ratepayers,” Cllr Nolan said, adding that she was strong supporter of retailers in Co Longford but felt that the council would take a significant hit if the proposal went ahead.
Cllr Nolan suggested that she would donate part of her Mayoral allowance to the council and the debate led Cllr Sexton to respond: “Let’s be honest chair you have had lots of publicity about other income that you had outside of this chamber.”
Cllr Nolan pointed out that she had a mayoral allowance and that Cllr Sexton had a persion [as a former government TD].
Cllr Sexton said she had never “done a junket” in her 20 year political career and said money assigned for her own conference expenses could go towards the paid parking proposal.
Mayor Nolan responded by pointing out that conference money cannot be drawn down for any other purpose than attending conferences.
On the prospect of bowing to the chamber’s request, Town Clerk Dan Rooney said the local authority was facing up to a potential €50,000 loss, a figure which was likely to double if the idea was extended to the busy Christmas shopping period.
Cllr Michael Connellan, in support of Cllr Sexton’s proposal, said the onus was on the council to help cash strapped businesses.
“There is no doubt that if you walk from the top to the end of town, nearly every second or third building is closed,” he said.
“The businesses are not there and we have to encourage people into town on a Saturday. As a solicitor I see it on a daily basis where I have business people coming into me struggling and wondering how they are going to wind down their business.”
Cllr Gerry Warnock disagreed, saying the lack of a consumer presence in Longford was not caused by paid parking, but rather the lack of high street brands to entice shoppers.
Councillors, on foot of a motion by Cllr Tony Flaherty to postpone any lasting decision, are now expected to rule on the matter this week at a specially convened meeting.