It may have been an historic occasion when members of the Ballymahon Municipal District met to discuss next year’s discretionary budget, but it was marred by ill feeling and annoyance.
Emotions ran high and proceedings resulted in Cathaoirleach, Mark Casey walking out of the meeting after he failed to get answers to his questions from Finance Director Barry Lynch.
It all began when it emerged that Ballymahon would received just under €35,000 in discretionary funding - funds brought about by Longford Co Council’s own revenue incentives - once the 3% Local Property Tax (LPT) decrease was factored in.
Immediately local area representatives indicated that if the reduction in the LPT - which will see 3% deducted each year over the next five years - was going to have such a negative impact on discretionary funding, they were opposed to it.
Mr Lynch told the meeting that the cut in the LPT had cost the local authority €66,000 this year and in an effort to make up the shortfall, funding was removed from the discretionary budget.
“Who made this decision to take the money from the discretionary budget?” asked Cllr Casey (Ind) who pointed out, in fury, that he was “absolutely opposed” to the budget presented before him.
“Regardless of the cut, this amount of money is not significant to run an area and if this is they way things are going to be done, what is the point? We will not be able to represent the people of our area with this - we would want at least €100,000 per area to function.”
In response Mr Lynch pointed out that the local authority had “no choice” but to make up the shortfall from the LPT cut out of the discretionary funding budget. “It had to come from somewhere; a decision had to be made by the CEO and the finance manager of Longford Co Council.”
Cllr Casey then said that he was unable to secure “a straight answer” to his question and he subsequently packed his briefcase and removed himself from the chamber, citing “I can’t even get an answer to a simple question”
Cllr Gerald Farrell (FG) then said that it was not viable to extract such a large sum of money - €66,000 - from any budget and advised the bigwigs at the local authority to go back to the drawing board.
“There is lots of potential to grow tourism and jobs in our area,” he said, adding “but not much can be achieved with cuts in budget like that”.
Cllr Mick Cahill (FF), chairman of the district then pointed to the difficulties that will emerge in the area without adequate funding in place. “We have serious issues with the LPT cut coming from this budget and we would ask that the county manager get it from elsewhere,” he added.
“Tourism is one of the most important areas that we can hope to promote in Co Longford and this budget is totally unacceptable.”
In conclusion, Mr Lynch said that he would note the members ‘opposition’ to the discretionary budget and pointed out that the €66,000 reduction in the LPT was bound to affect services, “there is no doubt about that”
The discretionary budget provides funding for festivals, tourism and local projects.