Funding crisis for Town Council

Work on all major new road projects in Longford Town for the remainder of this year is being suspended because of swingeing government spending cuts.

Work on all major new road projects in Longford Town for the remainder of this year is being suspended because of swingeing government spending cuts.

Local politicians learned of the news at a meeting of Longford Town Council last night (Wednesday) after it emerged was facing a deficit of over €200,000.

The figures, presented to elected members by its administrative officer Mark McNerney, are expected to surpass the €300,000 mark, if as expected the Government pulls up to €1.3m from the county’s overall Local Government Fund.

As a direct consequence of that drawback, council executives have decided to suspend all road contract work for 2012 with the refurbishment of St Mel’s Road in Longford town emerging as the biggest casualty.

Those resurfacing and re-design works were expected to cost over €100,000, a sum which Mr McNerney admitted was simply too expensive for the council to endure.

“We have looked at areas where we can make savings and we have gone through all the service areas and what we have decided to do is to curtail expenditure. We simply have no choice,” he said.

And in a further insight into the council’s financial status, Mr McNerney refused to rule out further reductions before the turn of the year.

Asked by Cllr Mae Sexton what areas were likely to be hit, Mr McNerney hinted at perhaps re-assesing “non-essential” outgoings such as annual contributions which are made by the local authority.

“The next (financial) quarter will be presented at end of September and we will have to review it further because certainly we don’t want to be having to adjust figures standing at a financial cliff-edge,” he told a hushed council chamber.

Looking across the table at the council’s financial expert, Mayor Cllr Peggy Nolan said it was imperative schemes headed by the St Mel’s Road project were prioritised next year.

Despite succeeding in her request, a number of councillors hit out at the sudden turnaround in the council’s financial state of affairs.

“We have to ask how this government thinks people can continue taking all of these cuts,” said an irate Cllr Mae Sexton. “It is outrageous that we find ourselves in this situation and it does appear that we are in it on our own.”

Anger was also directed at the decision by Leinster House officials to limit central government funding due to the low compliance rate of the State’s much publicised household charge.

Cllr Michael Connellan branded the levy a “property tax”, an introduction which Cllr Tony Flaherty warned would lead to some tough decisions at a local level.

“We can’t pin it (deficit shortfall) on the local businesses,” he told fellow councillors. “We are not going to be popular in the decisions that we make but we have to lead by example.”

Cllr Paul Connell agreed, but warned against targeting those that are most in need of local authority assistance.

Making reference to the St Mel’s Road project which he said was a long-running concern of his, the Tesco staff member said: “It (St Mel’s Road) has always been a bone of contention with me. That wall should be knocked and the road widened because two cars cannot pass on it as it is.”

The council are expected to revisit the issue surrounding its funding crisis in early October and ahead of the adoption of next year’s all-important budget.