By Meghan Smith
Fine Gael councillors Maria Murphy and Gerry O'Connor say they will continue to fight against funding cuts to the Dunshaughlin electoral area, which are being handed down as a result of the county's low rate of payment of the household charge.
The Dunshaughlin electoral area was the only of Meath's five electoral areas to exceed the 65% payment target set down by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. The overall payment rate for the county must reach this level by 15th November to avoid further funding cuts. It currently stands at 60%.
As of 1st October, Dunshaughlin area had a 67% payment rate, followed by Navan (57%), Slane and Trim (53%) and Kells (51%)
Dunboyne Cllr Maria Murphy says that the Dunshaughlin area should not have to absorb the budget cuts in equal measure with other electoral areas. "It is my opinion that the distribution of the budget cuts across each district should be pro rata to the collection rates of the household charge," she said. "The residents of the Dunshaughlin area must see a benefit for paying their household charge in greater numbers. The Dunshaughlin district is already subsidising services in other districts. It's time to look at how we distribute our funds given the recent 2011 census figures."
Her comments were met with an angry rebuke from Navan councillor Shane Cassells at the October meeting of Meath County Council. He called her suggestions 'poisonous', saying "I will not be condoning any such policy whereby we take money out of an area because people on one side of the road have paid the charge and those on the other have not."
Dunshaughlin area engineer Emmanuel Mwadiwa announced at last week's area committee meeting that the county's roadworks programme for 2012 must cut €400,000 of planned expenditure, with the Dunshaughlin area responsible for absorbing €80,000 of this cut. This reduction of funding means that the refurbishment of Dunshaughlin courthouse grounds has been shelved for this year, along with planned footpath works in St Olivers, Ratoath and Castleview, Dunboyne. According to Mwadiwa, no new roadworks projects will be carried out in the area between now and the end of the year, in light of this cut.
Dunshaughlin Cllr Gerry O'Connor says the cuts to spending in local area are unfair to residents. Speaking at the area meeting, he said that councillors in other areas had blatantly told people not to pay the charge. "We have all been responsible in the Dunshaughlin area and it shows in our compliance rate," he said.
"The Dunshaughlin electoral area accounts for approximately 27% of the population of the county, yet it receives only 20% of the county's budget," said Cllr O'Connor. "This has to change, but this change will be contested by councillors in other electoral areas. Already local councillors have been accused of being parochial by a Navan councillor. If parochial means standing up for the residents of the Dunshaughlin electoral area then call me Mr Parochial!"
Cllr Murphy echoed these remarks. "It is no coincidence that the areas which have lower percentage collection rates are the areas where public representative were promoting non-payment of the household charge," she said. "These people made a decision not to pay the household charge and the people of our district should not be penalised because of that."