Covid hits Kerry budget as payroll costs soar to €72m

Payroll is now the single biggest element of the council's €168.3m budget for 2021, accounting for 43.9% of all the money spent
Covid hits Kerry budget as payroll costs soar to €72m

Covid-19 has had 'an unprecedented impact' across tourism-dependent Kerry, affecting the county's rates base for years to come, the council’s annual budget meeting has heard. Picture: Don MacMonagle

Whilst Covid-19 has had “an unprecedented impact” across tourism-dependent Kerry, affecting the county's rates base for years to come, the council’s annual budget meeting has heard payroll costs have soared to a record €72.5m.

Payroll is now the single biggest element of the council's €168.3m budget for 2021, accounting for 43.9% of all the money spent, according to a report drafted for the meeting.

Almost €10m of this sum is for the fortnightly pension payments to retired staff and for the lump sums for those staff retiring in 2021. Kerry County Council currently employs around 1,300 employees.

The unprecedented and enormous impact of Covid-19 across Kerry, particularly because of its reliance on the tourist industry had been “very severe”, and this was a budget like no other, chief executive Moira Murrell said.

The rates intake of an estimated €44m forms the bulk of local income, accounting for approximately a  quarter of the total budget.

Because of the pandemic, businesses have closed and the increase in vacancies will have repercussions for years to come, Ms Murrell warned.

“There are a significant number of vacancies and this will impact not just in this budget, but future budgets down the line,” Ms Murrell said.

The Government’s commercial rates nine-month waiver will be very important, she said.

However, the waiver did not provide for vacant properties. Currently, in Kerry there is a 100% rates refund for vacant commercial properties.

Around a fifth of rates will not be collectable next year, the council's head of finance, Angela McAllen, estimates. Some €9m is the allocation for refunds and non-collection of rates in 2021 to reflect the “unfortunate increase in vacancy and business closure” due to the long-term impact of the pandemic, Ms McAllen said.

Some of the wage bill will be recouped from central government programmes. The reason so much is being spent on salaries and wages in Kerry this year is because of pay agreements with the public sector unions by the Government, the meeting was told.

This has seen increases as well as pay restoration from cuts during the last downturn.

“The impact of national pay agreements between Government and unions has resulted in an increase in payroll costs for Budget 2021. Centrally negotiated agreements are affecting pay rates in county councils,” Ms Murrell said.

Payments from Irish Water account for almost €13m, and is just  €2m behind local property tax income and is “a large chunk of our income”, Ms McAllen said.

The council continues to provide water services in Kerry as an agent and this includes the operation and maintenance of water supply, drinking water compliance, non-domestic meter maintenance, water leakage reduction and waste water plants operation and maintenance.

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