No rise in rates as council commits to housing focus

Budget 2023 passed by Westmeath County Council on Monday of last week saw no increase in commercial rates and no cutback in services.

Described as “a work of genius”, the budget was framed by Jimmy Dalton, head of finance, and his team against a backdrop of reduced income from rates and increased spending on payroll, energy and loan repayments.

In fact, 81% of ratepayers may benefit from a 6% grant to help pay their rates. A 10% levy on vacant properties has been introduced more as a deterrent to dereliction than as a source of income, Mr Dalton said.

There was general agreement among the members to the budget, which many of them confessed was much more positive and painless than they had feared. Individual submissions were noted by the executive, but no alteration was made to the draft budget presented to them.

After some six hours of examining the 33-page document, guided through it by Mr Dalton, Mark Keaveney, David Jones and the chief executive, Pat Gallagher, the members adopted the budget as presented.

The council expect increased income from rents, paid parking, leisure activities, planning fees, fire charges and IPB dividend. Government grants of €3.4m have been allocated to help them offset increased payroll and energy costs. However, every 0.5% increase in interest rates would increase the council’s loan repayments by €97,000.

Rents should be up because of a rent review and an additional 174 properties in 2023.

The budget also provides for increases in support for homeless services and a doubling of staff dedicated to climate action work.

The council have set aside €640,085 for next year’s fleadh, €400,000 of it to go to the Fleadh Executive Committee, €140,000 for administration and €100,000 for additional council expenses associated with running the event.

€100.6m spend next year

The council will spend €100.6m next year, up over €10m on 2022. The bulk of the increase is in grant aided road maintenance, payroll, energy and loan repayments. They get €11.2m from Local Property Tax of which 55% is generated from properties in the county, and a projected €16,572,752 in road maintenance grants.

Provision of housing is one of the highest priorities in the budget. Mr told the estimates meeting that there are 271 homes on site at the moment, 104 of which will be completed this year and the remaining 167 in 2023.

The first 10 of 53 affordable homes are ready and offers are issuing to eligible applicants.

Under the Housing for All programme, it is aimed to provide 745 social housing homes in Westmeath by 2026 as well as 280 affordable housing homes.

They are also working on the midlands retrofit programme on 153 homes and the energy efficiency retrofit programme on 40 homes.

An allocation of over €290,000 is provided for project management and supervision costs associated with the Athlone Flood Alleviation and €103,000 for implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan, including the new post of biodiversity officer.