Labour Deliver for Waterford
13 December 2019
Commenting on the passing of the Waterford Council Budget, Mayor of Waterford City and County Council and Labour General Election candidate for Waterford, Cllr John Pratt said:
"In June 2019, the Labour Party entered into agreement with The Greens, Independents and Sinn Fein to drive the activity of Waterford City and County Council for five years as part of what became known as the Progressive Alliance. All of us entered into power-sharing under the knowledge that it would be a challenging 5 years.
"In September we overcame the first major hurdle. The Alliance chose to keep Local Property Tax in 2020 at the same rate as 2019 and 2018. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wanted to reduce it, which would have left the council €750,000 deeper in trouble and would have made yesterday's budget almost impossible to balance.
"In October the entire council was blindsided by a sudden cut in income of €3.3 million when the Government announced a change at national level in how Irish Water pays rates to local authorities. This was coupled with a €700,000 increase in expenditure request from the Execitive of the Council arising out of increased insurance and other costs. That left us having to solve a €4 million shortfall.
"We got to work on it immediately and called for unity across the political spectrum to solve the problem. €2 million extra funding was secured from government, which was welcome, but still left us €2 million short. Further commitments were also received from Minister of State John Paul Phelan TD in relation to deploying state agencies to Waterford early in the new year to examine development opportunities.
"In addressing the massive €2 million hole in the council budget, the executive of Waterford City and County Council proposed plugging this mostly with a 5% increase in commercial rates. We immediately assured hard-pressed rate payers that we would not countenance such a sudden and significant imposition on them, and met with Chamber representatives and Business Group representatives on a number of occasions.
"Along with our Green Party and Independent colleagues, and after painstaking analysis of the budget with the Council CEO and finance team, we identified where savings could be made in council spending so that the rates increase could be reduced as much as possible without making cuts to vital services or introducing new charges. We were able to cut the CEO's proposed rates increase in half, from 5% to 2.5%.
"Unfortunately, our now former Alliance partners in Sinn Féin chose not to support our alternative budget and did not come up with an alternative of their own. It is easy to identify problems, coming up with solutions is the hard part, which is what we have done. Sinn Féin have called the budget that was passed yesterday an “austerity budget” even though there are no cuts to housing, roads and other services despite what they might claim to the contrary. They are fixated on pointing out that the council is facing a cut of over €15 million over the next 5 years. There will be a general election next year but they have not once said that if they get into government they will ensure that this cut will be reversed, which begs the question why should people in Waterford vote Sinn Féin nationally next year when they cannot even deliver on promises they make locally.
"The budget that we proposed yesterday was fair, reasonable and responsible. Without the support of our former Sinn Fein partners it was voted down by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It was very disappointing but not surprising that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voted against our budget without mentioning even a single thing that they objected to in it.
"Recognising that politics is the art of the possible we were open to engage with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to come up with a workable budget in the best interests of the people of Waterford. We reached a compromise that built on our budget that had previously been rejected and it was improved by keeping our lower 2.5% commercial rate increase while adding a rebate for smaller businesses, all while still protecting vital services from cuts.
"We got a balanced budget passed.
"We prevented the abolition of the council and its replacement with a government Commissioner.
"We preserved local democracy and respected voters who exercised their right to elect local councillors willing to represent them for a full five year term through thick and thin.
"We will continue to fulfil our duty.
"Labour is proud to stand over the budget we presided over this year. Labour means work, and we will continue to work with other councillors who are prepared to work with us on behalf of the people of Waterford."