Council faces “challenging” future

The ongoing fallout from Ireland’s economic collapse has left Longford County Council with a multi million euro headache, new figures have shown.

The ongoing fallout from Ireland’s economic collapse has left Longford County Council with a multi million euro headache, new figures have shown.

Outstanding development levies, water rates and charges associated to rents and annuities were principally to blame for the shortfall in funding in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the largest chunck of that figure centred on charges still owed by property developers. In 2012, developent levy debtor figures stood at €2.2m while over €1m went unrecouped in commercial water fees with rates, rents and annuities accounting for a combined €1.45m in overall arrears.

According to figures contained in the council’s annual financial statement for 2012, the contents of which were presented to elected representatives this week, cuts from central government resulted in a €3.1m drop in income from grants and subsidies compared to 2011 levels.

This, despite the council managing to reduce its accumulated annual deficit from a 2009 high of €800,000 to just over €300,000 last year.

And for some of the local authority’s most senior personnel, the next 12 months is likely to prove just as demanding.

“The environment in which Longford County Council operates will continue to be extremely challenging in 2013,” said County Manager Tim Caffrey, in his end of year assessment.

Much of that outlook, he said, would hinge on the future successes of Irish Water, the new state-owned subsdiary of Bord Gais charged with managing the nation’s public water supply.

“One of the key government decisions which will shape the financial future of the council is that concerning the establishment of the national water utility,” he added. “This decision will have significant implications for capital expenditure, borrowings and operating costs.”

Several of the council’s 21 elected members were equally guarded, especially when the debate switched to its €1m water rates collection bill.

“I am a farmer myself and I pay my water rates,” said a visibly riled County Mayor, Cllr Sean Farrell. “What really cheeses me off big time is that I, and an awful lot of people like me, pay our water rates. And here we have €500,000 worth of water rates from farmers uncollected. As a farmer myself I think that is a bloody outrage, I really do.”

As he pressed for a “get tough” policy in dealing with recalcitrant ratepayers, Mr Caffrey dismissed any notions that the council would take a laid back approach when dealing with uncooperative customers.

He also confirmed the Revenue Commissioners would take over the management of the Government’s Household Charge from July 1 when charges for late payments are expected to reach the €200 bracket.