Struggling council faces 'pretty awful' cuts
SLIGO COUNTY Council may have to face the “pretty awful proposition” of having to take life guards off its beaches and dim public lighting in the county’s towns and villages, county manager Hubert Kearns said yesterday, amid warnings the council may not be able to make ends meet.
Speaking after a special meeting called to discuss a report by consultants Grant Thornton into the financial crisis at the council, the manager said there would be no resolution without Government intervention.
Councillors voted to send a delegation to meet Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to make the case for the €10 million State bailout recommended by the consultants, who predicted the council’s revenue deficit could more than double to €27 million in the next five years, unless immediate action was taken.
The county manager rejected allegations by some councillors that the crisis was as a result of mismanagement and followed a series of unrealistic budgets which Independent councillor Declan Bree claimed were “based on fantasy”.
Mr Kearns said he had repeatedly pushed for a voluntary redundancy scheme and he reiterated the view of the consultants that local authorities’ hands were tied in this area because of the Croke Park agreement.
The manager stressed that salaries and pensions would continue to be paid “as long as I have breath in my body” and he said the Government had an obligation to ensure these commitments were met.
Asked to comment on reports that his own pay, at €136,000, was €30,000 more than that of the Spanish prime minister, Mr Kearns said his salary was fixed by Government. “I am surprised that the Spanish prime minister earns so little,” he said, adding his pay had been cut in 2008.
Among the factors cited by the manager as contributing to the financial crisis was the huge cost of providing water treatment plants and waste water facilities required to meet European standards. Until 2010, raw sewage was being pumped into the bay and the waste water plant had been provided “in the national interest” as the Government was being forced to comply with EU directives but was costing €1.5 million a year to run.
Sinn Féin councillor Seán Mac Manus told the meeting the consultants’ report, which cost more than €11,000, was a waste of money as it revealed nothing new but highlighted “the mismanagement of the finances of this council over a number of years”.
He said budgets which “could not add up” were approved at successive estimates meetings as the main political parties accepted without question the manager’s recommendations.
Mr Bree said the report had confirmed that in financial terms Sligo County Council was “a basket case”, with a capital deficit of €73 million, a revenue deficit of €13 million and an expected deficit in 2012 of €2.5 million.
“The consultants know as well as I do that this council will hardly survive until the end of the year,” he added.
The Mayor of Sligo, Cllr David Cawley (FG), said the Minister should instruct the bank to increase the council’s overdraft of €7.5 million, something the bank has refused to do in spite of department approval for an €11 million overdraft.
The report highlighted the 5.7 per cent rate of sick leave at the council, the equivalent of 15 days annually, making it one of the highest in the country. Staff numbers have dropped from 506 in 2008 to 409.
Independent councillor Michael Clarke said there was hardly enough road staff left to fill potholes, while council headquarters was like “a ghost building” so many staff had left.