The refusal by almost half the county’s homeowners to pay the much maligned household charge is likely to leave a gaping €1.2m in hole in Longford County Council’s day to day spending capabilities.
County Manager Tim Caffrey revealed there had been no firm indication from government bosses as to how much Longford was likely to receive ahead of the next installment of central funding.
The county’s most senior local authority figure conceded the council was now in a “serious situation” because over 40 per cent of Longford homeowners had yet to pay the €100 fee.
Alongside a possible €1.2m county council deficit, Longford Town Council could also be faced with a €100,000 shortfall over the coming months, he admitted.
“I don’t want to scaremonger anybody, but that is the reality,” said a plain speaking Mr Caffrey. “ It is very important that we do everything we possibly can to collect the household charge because it could have very serious consequences from our point of view.”
The Government had been expecting to raise up to €160m from the measure, but has so far recieved around half that amount.
It’s a situation which could signal far reaching cuts to councils across the country as much of the monies had been earmarked for distribution under the Local Government Fund.
Making his comments at last week’s monthly council meeting, Mr Caffrey underlined the importance of the fund, warning Longford risked losing more than some of its neighbouring counterparts.
“There is a serious threat that we will be significantly reduced in our income because Longford is totally dependent on the Local Government Fund.
“If what happens is being suggested is going to happen where the household charge is not being collected and is done on a county by county basis, it could possibly mean that this local authority will be down to the tune of €1.2m,” he blunty explained.
Some elected representatives looked clearly taken aback by the admission.
Cllr Gerry Brady questioned the role the media played in the issue, saying the proposals governing both household and domestic water charges had originally been earmaked for introduction under former Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan.
Cllr PJ Reilly said the charge was “very unfair” to the estimated 55 per cent of Longford homeowners who have paid.
Cutting a frustated figure, the Fianna Fail representative asked whether the same problem was likely to befall the Government’s decision to re-introduce domestic water charges.
Nodding in quiet approval, Cllr Sean Farrell said the measure couldn’t be more welcome.
“I am delifghted that the meters are coming in and that the charge is €30 or €40,” he said, stopping to reveal his own residence in Newtowncashel currently commands a €100 standard charge.
The south Longford representative said meters used for agricultural purposes had helped improve water usage in his home parish in recent years, a measure he stressed carried a lot of weight.
“If the standing charge of €100 that I and lots of others are on, is reduced to €40, for me that is a major improvement,” he said.