'Decent increase' in district budget

A significant increase in part of the budget for both municipal districts in Westmeath is on the cards for 2024.

“This is my first time in 10 years to sit in front of you with what I consider – and I hope you will consider – a decent increase in what is an extremely important area of our activities,” council finance officer, Jimmy Dalton told members of the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District at their November meeting, as he revealed that it is proposed that the countywide General Municipal Allocation (GMA) go up by €723,600.

The GMA is the portion of the county council’s overall budget over which county councillors have most influence. While the main budget covers items such as salaries, loan repayments and operational costs, the GMA refers only to the discretionary funding that is allocated to the municipal districts.

“It’s an area of our activities where we get a significant bang for our buck; it’s an area of activities that rewards community involvement,” Mr Dalton stated.

The rise means the overall GMA for Westmeath for 2024 will be €3.427m, compared to last year’s €2.704m.

Of that €3.427m, the proposal is that €1.742m be allocated to the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District, and €1.685m be allocated to the Athlone Moate Municipal District.

That will give each district a sum of €75,000 that is currently unallocated. Councillors will be able to decide how that money should be spent.

In a presentation to members of the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District, Mr Dalton provided a breakdown of what the proposed working of the GMA budget should be, especially in the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District.

He said the executive is proposing a one third increase in housing grants from €1.5m to €2m.

“We’re proposing an increase in Christmas lights from €60,000 to €95,000 – so that would be €47,000 per district, an increase of a little bit in excess of 58%,” Mr Dalton told the members, adding that while the costs involved in Christmas lights have always been substantial, they have grown significantly in recent years.

“It’s a very significant cost,” he stated.

Mr Dalton says there is also a proposal to increase the Festival and Events grant from €100,000 to €140,000.

Another proposed increase is in the Marketing Mullingar fund, which will take it from €25,000 to €30,000. In addition, it is proposed to set aside €7,500 aside for town twinning.

Mr Dalton revealed that a countywide increase of €55,000 is proposed in Community Development Grants, to take the overall pot to €250,000, to be split evenly between the two districts.

Athlone Tidy Towns and Mullingar Tidy Towns are in line for allocations of €25,000 apiece; there’s to be a €15,000 boost to bring the Arts Development plan to €90,000 countywide while the Arts Facilities allocation remains unchanged at €210,000 (€70,000 for Athlone/Moate and €140,000 for Mullingar/Kinnegad.