In one of its most ambitious capital programmes ever, Meath County Council plans to spend €454 million on housing and building, roads, transportation and safety, the environment, economic development, and recreation and amenity over the next three years.
Spending will be up in all areas of the council’s activities, boosted by a better economic climate and increases in the collection of levies. However, its biggest single spend will be in the housing and building area – €230 million will be put to the building and acquisition of 1,300 accommodation units. The projected spend of €454 million compares with an actual capital spend from 2014 to 2018 of €209 million.
Council Head of Finance Fiona Lawless inserted a “health warning” with the ambitious programme – the current favourable economic climate will have to continue, levy collections will have to continue to perform strongly, and in the event of levies not materialising then future collections beyond 2021 will be required to fund current programmes before any new projects can commence.
The independent audit committee, comprising councillors, council officials and external professional accountants, awarded a “merit badge” to the county council, noting that the council had achieved a surplus each year since 2006 and had also slashed an accumulated adverse balance in its revenue account from €10.765 million in 2006 to just €1.287 million at the end of 2017. That committee noted the improved financial standing of the council over the past number of years but warned that it would have to continue strict control over its budget. The committee said that all the council’s work was being done with one of the lowest number of staff per head of population in the country.
When councillors reviewed the capital budget on Monday this week, most attention centred on housing. Between this year and 2021 the council will spend €83 million on construction projects, €30 million on buying accommodation units, €28 million from the voluntary sector (total €141); €15 million on acquisition of land for housing; €54 million on Part V social, housing; €4.4 million on Traveller accommodation, along with €14 million on accommodation upgrades and remediation work.
In roads and transportation, €1.2 million will be devoted to schemes on the N2 Slane, and and N2 Rath to Kilmoon projects. A further €31 million will be spent on road projects at Dunmoe to Wickers Cross, Grange to Clontail, minor work safety schemes, and Tullaghanstown Cross pavement scheme.
The capital budget was given a warm welcome by Fine Gael councillors. Cllr Gerry O’Connor said the council could now afford to look at where it had come from in terms of its finances. There would be a 66% increase in spending on housing, a heavy increase in spending on roads, and a 50% increase in spending on economic development which was essential in terms of job creation. Cllr Eugene Cassidy said that a projected spend of €500 million over three years was “fantastic money”. The extra funds to be spent over the next few years would “make a massive difference to this country”.
Independent Cllr Nick Killian said that if the capital budget was an annual report he would give it “seven out of 10”. He said: “The report is diabolical on housing with the provision of just 1,300 units to be built. Fifty people a month are going onto the council’s housing list”. He said he could not believe that the council was spending “just €12 on the acquisition of housing”. He also hit out at the fact that tourism had not been mentioned in the capital report, pointing to major difficulties in road access to the Tayto Park. Independent Cllr Gillian Toole said that there was a huge population increase in the south of the county and she wanted much more spend on road improvements in that area.