Waterford Councillors have unanimously approved their 2022 Budget following a meeting yesterday, with all 32 councillors in favour of what has been described as a ‘progressive’ and ‘game-changing’ plan.
Chief Executive of Waterford Council, Mr. Michael Walsh, outlined his report to councillors before their comments were given consideration.
The proposals were met with widespread praise, particularly on account of aims to tackle the influence of climate change and the aim to decarbonise County Waterford.
Measures included in this year’s budget were:
- A commercial rates increase of 5%.
- 86% of ratepayers will not be affected by this increase, which will be levied on larger rate payers only, should they engage with Council on energy-saving and climate-change issues; they can receive a rebate.
- €500,000 towards decarbonisation in a bid to allow the council to attract greater national and EU funding schemes.
- Increased spending on roads/footpaths and public lighting.
- Further funds for housing maintenance.
- Funding of €40,000 provided for the provision of a public toilet in Dungarvan
- Funding of €20,000 to carry out a feasibility study on the provision of a public swimming pool in Dungarvan.
- Funding for increased lifeguard provision at the county’s beaches
- €135,000 for the continuation of retail incentives.
- A further €100,000 for promotion of Waterford as a tourist destination.
- Increased spending on playgrounds, open spaces and parks - including the provision for public lighting at Waterford City’s People’s Park.
‘Most progressive budget in Ireland’
In his comments, CEO Michael Walsh said that this is one of the most progressive budgets in Ireland, and can be a real catalyst for change in Waterford.
“Yes, there is a bit of pain on this - but we’re applying it very adjustly to those who have the capacity to pay. I don’t actually believe that there’s a more progressive budget done by any local authority in Ireland. I do really see it as having the potential to be game changing for Waterford and to actually give us a unique positioning. This will allow us to drive forward, to sell this city’s reputation and to be seen among the context of our younger population as considerate and conscious of the issues of the future.”
Waterford has ambition targets to become carbon-free by 2030, and Mr. Walsh says now is the time to make decarbonisation a reality.
“I do believe that the time is right in terms of the whole decarbonisation agenda and climate change agenda, for us to start stepping forward. The reality is that we are a little bit laggard here in Ireland relative to the rest of Europe. We’ve taken some good initiative, there’s been some very good work done locally, in terms of our in-house teams. The reality is that this agenda is going to have to be driven at local level in the longer term.”
The CEO says that climate conscious cities are reaping the rewards.
“People are simply saying that there is too much risk with putting money into things that are not following the climate change agenda. As a consequence, those that are following it and seen to be progressive, there are many European cities and elsewhere that are particularly progressive in this space, and they are reaping the dividend in terms of economic return and activity. I see that as a really significant opportunity by Waterford garnering first-move or advantage in Ireland in many respects in this space.”
Commercial Rates Rise
Mr. Walsh says that the reason that there was a commercial rates rise of 5% was to incentivise the county taking a step forward in climate action.
“In many respects, the issue that we have had in considering this budget is ‘how do we take this step forward in terms of climate change? How do we meet the additional demands on services and the resources for them? In a way, is there any way that we can do this in a just way, that reflects a really progressive budget in many respects, which I believe this to be. We want to do in a way that we are not harming those who are most vulnerable in terms of business, generally speaking.”
Fine Gael Councillor, Damien Geoghegan, who seconded the budget, says the Council took a ‘prudent’ approach.
“The approach regarding the commercial rates is certainly very imaginative. It’s something which I do find very frustrating as a councillor when we come to issue of rates every year. When we increase, there’s no consideration taken into the ability to pay. The large multi national is always treated the same as the small retailer, so I think the approach that we’re taking and that was presented to us today, is quite progressive and imaginative, while protecting 86% of the rate payers.”