Labour split ensures Council survival

A COMPROMISE offer by executive staff and a split in the Labour Party vote ensured slender majority support for the passing of Waterford Co Council’s budget for 2003.

But Cork Co Council members yesterday refused to pass the proposed estimates and run the risk of abolition.

Waterford County Manager Donal Connolly agreed to a 0.5% reduction in the proposed commercial rates hike of 8.5%, a drop in the wheelie bin charges and a cut in recyclable collection charges to secure 11-9 majority support.

The proposed reductions, totalling 175,000, were sufficient to convince Labour’s Cllr. Ger Barron to switch sides and back Fianna Fáil members who supported the new budget estimates.

The majority decisions also took the pressure of Waterford-based Environment Minister Martin Cullen who would have been forced to dissolve the council and appoint a Commissioner to run the local authority.

Three times during a heated three-hour session, the proceedings were adjourned as councillors and officials struggled to reach a consensus.

Proposed increases of 33% and 40% respectively on the wheelie bin and recyclable collection charges were among the stumbling blocks.

Several times, manager Mr Connolly warned the council of the risk of abolition.

As tension heightened, verbal fireworks enlivened the proceedings.

Mayor Lola O’Sullivan (FG) appealed to members to respect the chair. There was also the unprecedented sight of her colleague Cllr. Mary Greene showing emotional strains and crying.

Lone Independent Cllr. Betty Twomey joined the seven Fine Gael and two Labour members in initially opposing the estimates which would have left the Mayor holding the casting vote.

But her Fine Gael colleagues sought a deferment of the meeting to enable the county manager to give them a complete break down of all the proposed expenditure to see if savings could be made in one or more areas.

Fianna Fáil’s Cllr. Tom Cronin expressed concern that reductions could result in members of staff being left go.

The Fine Gael proposal, however, was defeated on an 11-9 vote with the two Labour councillors taking opposite sides.

Meanwhile, in Cork, County Hall members decided to summon Finance Minister Mr McCreevy and his cabinet colleague Mr Cullen to explain how proper services in Ireland’s largest county could operate on paltry handouts by the Government.

Fine Gael, the largest group, were backed by Fianna Fáil and Labour in opposing the estimates.

Fine Gael’s Cllr Peter Kelly said the Government had already inflicted the dirty dozen indirect tax increases on people since its budget and the council’s own budget was inadequate to cope with providing proper services.

County council officials insisted they had no provision for an anticipated 7.2 million rise in wages as a result of benchmarking.

Management said the wage increases would have to be found from their own meagre resources.

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