Dublin City Council facing axe in row over bin charges

 

Dublin City Council faces abolition today after it failed to resolve a budgetary crisis brought about by a dispute over refuse charges.

The threat of abolition comes as local authorities throughout the State - including Dublin - face shortfalls running into millions of euro in the New Year because of a separate problem about revenue from the rates system caused by a six-month industrial action by Valuation Office staff.

In Dublin, the failure to resolve the disagreement in the council over higher bin charges at last night's meeting means that the councillors have not been able to meet their statutory obligations.

The Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen, must now decide whether to set a new date for councillors to adopt a budget or abolish the council and appoint a commissioner to manage the city's administration.

Members took a relatively short time last night to conclude they had no hope of reaching agreement on the budget, particularly as many of the 52 members were not present.

Councillors voted instead to ask the Minister to grant them a new date to consider the €700 million estimate of expenses which was prepared by the city manager, Mr John Fitzgerald.

However, Mr Fitzgerald told the council that he had to tell them they were in breach of their statutory duty, and he would be advising Mr Cullen today that the council had failed to adopt an estimate.

He said the Minister may allow another date if he thinks agreement may be reached, but added that "there is no guarantee". He said the budget before such a meeting would be the one he prepared, which includes charges, and he added: "I have done the job that I have to do."

A spokesman for the Department of Environment said Mr Cullen "was awaiting communication from the council".

Meanwhile, other cash-strapped local authorities, including the city councils in Galway, Cork, Waterford and Limerick, face a serious New Year rates shortfall because of a six-month industrial action by Valuation Office staff.

Officials in the Dublin-based office are refusing to deal with requests for revisions to rateable values around the State as part of a campaign to secure a large number of promotions and better pay.

The dispute was provoked by the Valuation Act 2001, which ordered that a full review should be undertaken of the rateable valuations of the country's 150,000 commercial properties over the next five to seven years.

The industrial action is costing Galway City Council alone €350,000. "It is a huge loss of income. We have been pushing to have the dispute resolved," the Galway city manager, Mr John Tierney, told The Irish Times.

The Valuation Office, which is headed by valuation commissioner Mr Seamus Rogers, has proposed to set up a separate Revaluation Office to carry out the first review of rates for nearly 150 years.

Under the plan, 30 contract valuers, operating under fundamentally different work practices, would be hired to carry out the work, though a number of existing Valuation Office staff would be promoted to head up the team. "It has been made clear to the unions that there will be no payment for change. This is covered by the partnership agreement," a spokeswoman for the Valuation Office said.

The industrial action by IMPACT, the Public Service Executive Union and the Civil and Public Service Union began in May.

The action was suspended for much of the summer to offer room for negotiations. However, IMPACT resumed its action in September in protest at the Department of Finance's refusal to consider any more than five promotions for existing office staff.