Budget critical if county is to thrive
Wexford County Council faces a balancing act next year as it tries to maintain local services and invest in the county.
Last week CEO of the council Tom Enright outlined the 2017 budget to members saying that the '2017 budget builds on the positivity introduced by the 2016 budget and there are certainty strong grounds for optimism for the future'.
However he said that the budget 'also acknowledges that the financing of local government is still under pressure and there is a need to maintain services levels while investing in specific proposals to aid and build on the recovery in the local economy.'
Mr Enright said next year will see a number of major projects around the county 'make positive steps forward'. These include the New Ross and Enniscorthy bypasses which is an investment of more than half a billion euros in the county, an investment which will 'greatly improve Wexford's connectivity'. he said.
Other projects continuing next year include the delivery of the new garda headquarters, the new courthouse in Wexford town and a number of new schools around the county; the development of the natural gas network, broadband improvements and major refurbishment works at Johnstown Castle.
Mr Enright stressed that it important that Wexford has a plan in place to capitalise on economic recovery.
'As the country continues to experience economic recovery and falling unemployment levels, it is important the council acts decisively to lead the development and delivery of economic initiatives to ensure that the county maximises opportunities where possible.
'Recent reports commissioned by the council have indicated that there is a need to invest in economic infrastructure within the county.'
He said that unemployment in Wexford is still relatively high with almost every household affected. He also pointed out that 17 per cent of the working population travel outside of the county for work. Young people, he said, are also leaving Wexford for work and education and settling down in these other counties.
Mr Enright said the report also highlighted deficiencies in the tourism infrastructure and how the county is not securing IDA investments or indigenous expansion due to the lack of suitable property solutions.
He went on to say that while there are 'increasing positive recovery signs it is critical that plans are in place and solutions available to place the county in the best possible position to capitalise on opportunities when and even before they arrive.'
He said that the council is working hard to find solutions to the lack of suitable properties for business expansion and investment. 'This is already generating positive interest in various sectors and it is therefore critical that every effort is made to deliver these proposals as soon as possible to build on this positive momentum and to place the county in a strong reputations position and provide a catalyst for future business and tourism developments within the county.
'In addition to the delivery of the Economic Development property solutions including the ICT cluster in Gorey, the technology park development in Enniscorthy, the advance factory proposals for New Ross and the Trinity Wharf Business Park in Wexford, ministerial sanction has been secured for borrowing to develop public realm projects including parks and greenways within the county which will add to the attractiveness of the county as a place to live, work and visit.
'It is critical that the programme developed for the county delivers a strong Wexford brand through relevant and targeted marketing programmes and business solutions that will help our local economy grow and prosper for years to come.'
Mr Enright said that the decision by members of the council to increase the Local Property Tax (LPT) by 5 per cent will generate an additional €607,812 next year bringing the income from the tax to €14,155,328. He said that €400,000 of this money will be used within the Economic Development to provide for the financing of proposed development in the county while the remaining €200,000 will be added to the roads programme to implement a locally funded Community Involvement Scheme providing for a new co-funded scheme for local road projects.
However it is bad news for most businesses in the county as the rates harmonisation process continues into 2017. Businesses in the Wexford district face a 2.73 per cent increase in commercial rates while businesses in the New Ross and Enniscorthy district face a 2.9 per cent increase. Commercial rates will generate an income of €33,928,519 across the county.
Mr Enright said that 'commercial rates is a significant contributor to the total budgeted income for the county and it is vital to the level of service delivery that income from this source is maximised.
'Ensuring that all commercial properties in the county are included on the rates records and are properly rated continues to be a focused objective of the council in order to apply the burden of commercial rates in an equitable manner to business owners across the county.'
In terms of addressing the housing crisis in Wexford Mr Enright said that to date the council has secured funding of €12.5m for the construction of new homes in 2017. 'This includes delivery in 2017 of the first passive social housing units in Ennisorthy. To date 254 units are planned by the housing department with 144 units lodged for planned and 110 planned for 2017.
'We are also working in collaboration with approved housing bodies to build new homes, secure private properties and options through NAMA and the housing agency across the county. We are also developing contracts with landlords in the private rented sector through options such as leasing and RAS.'
He said that the four municipal districts also have programmes of works. In terms of Gorey he said that the priority projects for 2017 include progressing the redevelopment of Gorey Town Park, the completion of the next stage of the relief road, provision of cycle lanes on the N11 and the delivery of the Camolin and Ferns Village renewal programmes.
Smaller scale projects include the development of the town bio-diversity trail and Ramsfort woodland trails.
In Enniscorthy he said that the Enniscorthy bypass, the flood defence scheme are two key projects. The development of the second phase of the Enniscorthy hub and the development of plans for the Orchard Eco Park and progressing the refurbishment of the Market Square offices will also get under way next year.
The 2017 programme for the Wexford district includes the relocation of the borough district offices and staff to a town centre locations, finalising the plans for the revitalisation of the Wexford Quay area including the Trinity Wharf site, the Min Ryan public park at Killleens and village renewal works at Bridgetown, Ballygillane and Rosslare Harbour.
In New Ross that the major flood defence scheme is due to commence and the continuation of works on the New Ross bypass.
Mr Enright said that the budget will ensure that the county continues to prosper next year.
'2017 will see real progress on plans and proposals initiated in 2016 to assist the positive economic growth in the county and this budget provides a funding mechanism to support this.
'The programme is ambitious but has been measured in terms of the needs of the county and how we respond to opportunities that present themselves for growing the local economy.
'The council's economic development programme which is currently being rolled out will place the council in a central and critical role of supporting economic development, attracting and maximising economic investment and activity in the country.' He said the council 'is committed to building on their service delivery'.