Cork Council tensions build as city accuses county of €5m error

Cork City Hall

A war of words has erupted between Cork city and county councils during the review of the region’s local government structures after city claims it has identified a €5m error in county figures.

Cork City Council has also accused Cork County Council of refusing, or of not being able, to provide it with certain financial information which would have allowed it to fully answer new questions from the Smiddy group overseeing the review.

The details emerged when city chief executive, Ann Doherty, briefed councillors on the city’s response to the Smiddy group’s request for further information.

Established by Environment Minister Alan Kelly last January, the group, chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, is examining the case for the first extension of Cork’s city boundary in 50 years, or a possible merger of the city and county councils.

The group, which has received almost 100 submissions and which is due to report in September, recently asked the city council for further information on its initial submission.

In its response, the city says it has discovered a €5m error in the council’s figures relating to Local Property Tax (LPT), and the possible effect a city boundary extension might have on the county council’s finances.

It said there was “significant doubt as to the robustness” of the county’s figures, and added: “Further analysis was hampered by the refusal, or inability, of Cork County Council to supply the financial data requested by the (Smiddy) committee.

“The analysis by Cork City Council throws considerable doubt over any saving attributable to the amalgamation of both authorities.”

The city also said it was “perturbed” that it did not receive certain financial data from the county council to enable it to answer the Smiddy group’s new questions fully.

County council chief executive Tim Lucey strongly rejected the claims last night and said the city is taking the €5m figure out of context, and was being “selective”, choosing one of five possible boundary extension scenarios to suit its argument.

He accepted that further analysis by the county of its own figures indicated that an error had been made in the distribution of LPT revenue, and while the figures were revised, there was no significant change in the overall figures.

He also insisted that the county has co-operated fully in the process, pointing out that he wrote to Mr Smiddy on April 28 on a variety of matters, and asked the committee to revert if further (financial) analysis was required.

“We have received no such additional information request. In summary, Cork County Council has responded fully to all requests for additional information sought by the committee. There are no outstanding items,” he said.

Mr Smiddy moved last night to dampen the row, and said his committee has had a tremendous level of engagement and is very pleased with progress.

“I have no doubt that tensions may emerge between the respective authorities and other stakeholders which will no doubt begin to play out in the media,” he said.

“Our citizens are at the heart of this review, and I would especially urge everyone to seriously work closely together ‘hand in glove’ for the last five months of the review. It is absolutely futile to do otherwise.”

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