Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Progressive Book of Estimates in difficult circumstances

Last night I voted in favour of Waterford City Council’s Book of Estimates. I did so against a background of an economic crisis, major job losses and a national budget that robbed the poor to protect the rich. Balancing the books was not easy and difficult decisions had to be made. 2009 was a difficult year for Waterford City Council. We lost 56 members of staff. Council workers over the last two years saw a major reduction in their pay with direct pay cuts, income levies, pension levies and a ban on overtime. And yet despite this many right wing economists, politicians and journalists portray public servants as public enemy number one. These are people who clean our streets, remove our litter, empty our bins, repair our roads, provide and up keep playgrounds and open spaces, deliver keys to homes and much more besides. I commend the staff of the council for their hard work in difficult circumstances this year.

My approach to the estimates was governed by two things

Do they help in stimulating the local economy and assist in creating jobs
Do they support struggling families

On both counts I say yes. The estimates included a freeze on all local charges. That means no increase in commercial rates, no increase in non-domestic water charges, no increase in bin charges, no increase in the bin waiver charge, no increase in housing rents, no increase in parking charges, in fact no increase in any charge of which the council has responsibility. This is good for business and good for householders.

The estimates also include a strong investment in housing maintenance, remedial works and in maintaining open spaces and playgrounds. I proposed in earlier committee meetings an increase in the allocation of funds to the disability grant schemes. As a consequence the budget was amended and €100,000 extra is set aside for this important work.

The estimates also provide funding for the very exciting Waterford Crystal Project. This involves the refurbishment of the old ESB buildings and the construction of an iconic building on the city quays. In short this council took a big step in bringing crystal manufacturing back to Waterford. Funds were also set aside for the development of an historic quarter on the Mall, tourist promotion, festivals and the return to the city of the tall ships. In my view this budget is fair and positions Waterford to benefit economically, culturally and socially. It is economically literate and socially just and as a consequence I was happy to support them.

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