Friday 17 January 2020

€1m surplus in council’s accounts

David Looby at Wexford County Council meeting

A healthy, robust set of accounts were produced by Head of Finance Annette O'Neill, who said, for the fifth year running, the council had a surplus at the end of 2018.

Ms O'Neill said there was a surplus of €1,003,563 at the end of 2018. 'This represents the fifth year in succession where a surplus was achieved resulting in a reduction in the revenue deficit reported.'

Last year allocations saw increased funding totalling €3,686,666. Ms O'Neill said: '2018 was an exceptional year in terms of storms and following the snowfall associated with Storm Emma in March, Wexford County Council incurred significant unplanned expenditure.'

A grant towards these costs of €1,226,336 was provided to the council.

'There are, however, budget items within the records that are indicating overspends for various reasons and formal approval of the members is required for such additional expenditure,' she cautioned.

During 2018 spending on capital projects amounted to €73.4m which is up €21m on the spend in 2017 and €36m more than expenditure activity reported in 2016.

'The increasing capital infrastructure confirms increased activity in delivering housing and other capital infrastructure investment within the county and this is supported by the on the ground activity now visible in the county across all programmes.'

The total assets of the council in 2018 stood at €2,730,581,438, up €24,444,781 on the previous year. The capital debt owed by the council on December 31, 2018, was €136.1m, €63m of which is recoupable from other services, (€45m from mortgage loans, €16m from voluntary housing bodies, €2m water services).'

Ms O'Neill said non mortgage borrowing of €45m by the council for the next phase of the Economic & Community Development Programme and for the public lighting upgrade programme.

She said debt management is a priority area of business for the council. 'The council continues to work with customers on agreeing payment plans to facilitate those in real difficulty.'

Commercial rates and housing loans income increase by 6 per cent in 2018 (up to 88 per cent and 98 per cent respectively), with rent and annuities remaining on a par at 92 per cent.

Ms O'Neill said there has been a noted improvement in collection rates from 2014 until 2018.

An overspend of €7,323,588 was recorded. The highest overspend was for the operation of the county's fire services, which came to €433,675, none of which was funded.

The total overspend came to €4,462,569, €3,542,880 of which was funded.

Concluding her report Ms O'Neill said at €3.77m the Revenue deficit is at the lowest level since 2007. 'But it still represents a real challenge in terms of restoring financial stability while delivering on plans for service delivery and development.'

Cllr George Lawlor congratulated Ms O'Neill and her team on the work they've done. 'We are certainly going in the right direction.'

He asked if something can be done to reduce the overspend on fire services. 'Is there any way we can look at putting in preventative measures for a lot of things that are happening,' citing the example of the fire in Curracloe.

He said street cleaning resulted in an overspend of €276,694, calling for preventative measures to be put forward by the council.

Cllr Johnny Mythen asked about the overspend of €191,032 on the communication's office, seeking a report on what is being done.

Cllr Marie Doyle asked when the process of the council taking over New Ross Port will be concluded.

Cllr Robert Ireton sought extra detail on how much leisure centres across the county are being funded by Wexford County Council, saying some centres are receiving substantial funding, while others are getting very little.

Ms Larkin said the overspend on paying for the services of the county's firemen was due to the extraordinary weather events last year and for the fire in Curracloe.

She said small grants are provided to the county's leisure facilities.

A new software and customer service unit within the communications department was the reason for the €191,032 overspend.

€5m in funding has been approved for the upgrading of the county's public lighting system, which is an ongoing project and Director of Services for Roads Eamonn Hore said 2019 is the third year of a five year programme.

'We are replacing in the region of 3,500 lights this year and we are doing our best to improve lighting in other areas, with the focus on Gorey, Courtown, Riverchapel, Ferns, Enniscorthy and the county's national roads this year.

Cllr Ireton said given the weather last year leisure centres across the county saw a big drop in people attending. He said pools in New Ross, Enniscorthy, Wexford and Kiltealy are all funded but the leisure centre in Courtown isn't, arguing that it needs support to ensure the futures of its staff.

Councillors were united in their praise for how the council's financial team had reduced the county's debt by 63 per cent.

Cllr Michael Sheehan said the council cut everything to the bone and still managed to drive forward a capital investment programme.

Cllr David Hynes asked why the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals charity shop in Wexford town was charged €7,000, asking Ms O'Neill to look into it.

Wexford People

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