Friday 19 October 2018

€5.5m reduction in debt over four years welcomed

Annette O'Neill, head of finance
Annette O'Neill, head of finance

David Looby at the Wexford County Council meeting

The Finance department were congratulated for shaving €5.5m off of the council's debt in four years.

Head of Finance with Wexford County Council Annette O'Neill outlined the council's financial health, saying there was a €530,053 revenue account surplus last year.

The council's income was €109,327,824 and its expenditure stood at €108,797,771. This is the fourth year in succession where a surplus has been recorded, Ms O'Neill said.

During 2017 spending on capital projects is recorded at €51.5m which is €14m of an increase on the reported level of €37.5m in 2016.

'The increased activity in delivering capital infrastructure within the county is anticipated to grow steadily over the coming years and confirms the council's efforts to invest in the future of the county across all programmes,' she said.

The value of fixed assets was €2,706,136,657 last year compaed to €2,688,104,109 in the previous year. The primary asset movement last year was in housing stock.

The capital debt owed by the council on December 31 last stood at €134.5m. However €64m of this sum is recoupable from other sources including €43m in mortgage loans, €18m relating to advances to voluntary housing bodies and €3m relating to water service borrowings which are now recoupable.

In mid-2016 the council borrowed €14m across three capital programmes. The housing loans element was fully drawn in 2016 and a total of €7.1m has been drawn to date. Early this year borrowing of €50.5m was approved by councillors for the council's Economic & Community development programme, public lighting programme and housing loan porogramme.

This borrowing is with ministerial sanction.

There was an overpsend of €3,333,634 funded and an overspend of €2,582,578 not funded.

Included in this figure is €56,409 for festivals in Wexford and Enniscorthy.

The Revenue account balance on December 31 was €4.773m in debt, representing an improvement of €530,000.

The deficit is the council's lowest in 11 years, Ms O'Neill said.

'Since the amalgamation of the five local authorities in 2014 the deficit on the Revenue account has made positive movements totalling €5.49m representing a 53.3 per cent reduction in the deficit during this period.'

Cautioning that there is no room for complacency, Ms O'Neill said the continued expansion of the council's capital programme will mean sacrifices will continue to have to be made.

Cllr George Lawlor congratulated Ms O'Neill and her team on reducing the deficit from €10.2m in 2014 to €4.7m this year.

He said: 'We have gone through a serious recession and despite that €5.5m it's a remarkable achievement.'

Praising her prudent financial management, Cllr Lawlor said: 'It's a terrific result given the economic climate we are still in. We often here opinions from outside this building telling us how to run our affairs but our job is to maintain services.'

She said there was a €1m overspend across all sectors, adding that there was essential maintenance repairs enforced upon the council through no fault of its own 'so the notion that we would be penalised is something that we can address.'

Director of Services for Roads Eamonn Hore said the county's roads are in a shocking state.

The council was told to submit a funding request for plant machinery and equipment but not for damage caused to the county's roads. Mr Hore submitted the bill for this sum anyway, saying Taoiseach Leo Varadkar intimated in a recent speech that local authorities could.

Ms O'Neill said: 'We were very disappointed last year when our request for storm damage funding was not paid in full and it's the same thing happening this year. We have only been asked to submit what has been paid direclty. We have put €2m into works.'

In praising Ms O'Neill and her team, Cllr Malcolm Bryne said he acknowledges that difficult fiscal decisions still have to be made.

He questioned why car parking revenue has fallen and was told by Ms O'Neill that it is not at the levels anticipated.

CEO Tom Enright paid tribute to Ms O'Neill and her staff for their work over the past four years.

He said: 'We have also seen our rates collection improve significantly. I want to thank the councillors for making prudent decision at budget time. We still have some significant financial issues to address including a very large capital loan and many capital projects remain unfunded. It's very important that we continue to operate our finances prudently allowing us to invest in our capital investment programme.'

Mr Enright praised the way the roads department continued to invest in our roads even when funding was cut. He said he spoke with Minister Shane Ross and emphasised to him the need for further funding as if not the road will deteriorate to such an extenet that major funds will be required to repair them.

Wexford People

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