Mr. Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has welcomed the publication by the Tipperary Reorganisation Implementation Group of the Implementation Plan for the establishment of a unified local authority in Tipperary.
The plan follows on from a decision taken by Government in July 2011 to establish a unified County Council in Tipperary with effect from the 2014 local elections, replacing the existing North and South Tipperary County Councils.
“I am very pleased with the progress that is being made with the reorganisation process in Tipperary and I particularly welcome the potential savings of €30 million over the 5-year lifetime of the Council.”
There has been some scepticism from local authorities about the €6m per annum expected to be saved with the amalgamation as Independent Cllr Micheál Lowry said; “I was Mayor at the time the Reorganisation Implementation Group was being set up and the initial cost of the amalgamation of the two councils could cost anywhere up to €10m. Simple things like changing the signage outside local authorities, signage outside waterworks and other service buildings will run up to the €100,000 mark.”
The Implementation Plan outlines once-off costs, predominantly related to information technology, will be €1.79m.
Costs will also be incurred due to the harmonisation of commercial rates and other charges, estimated to amount annually to €0.56bn.
Cllr Lowry added: “I can see these savings possibly in the long term, maybe five or six years in a new term but with the initial cost of the amalgamation, it’s hard to see where the Minister is getting this €6m per annum from. We might know more in September when it is decided about the town councils.”
Last week it was announced that the Local Government fund was going to be cut by €1.5m due to non collection of the household charge.
Minister Hogan believes there will also be non-financial benefits of unification: ‘The rationale for unification does not lie primarily in financial benefits. It should also bring about stronger, more cohesive local government that is better positioned to promote the interests of the county and contribute to job creation and the recovery effort generally. A unified local authority, following 173 years of separation, will serve an increased population, should have greater scale, strength, assets and capacity to help meet challenges arising and to promote the economic and social development of the county as a whole’.
The principal recommendations in the Tipperary Plan are include: the development of a new service delivery model involving streamlining of functions; a new management structure, involving a reduction of approximately 40% in senior grades; a target of 10% reduction in payroll costs; harmonisation of commercial rates and service charges in North and South Tipperary County Councils and preparation of an economic development plan for the County.
The new structure of the County Council will compromise of a manager, five directors of services and a head of finance.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Seamus Hanafin said: “I don’t see where the Minister is getting this €6m a year savings from. If anything there will be costs in the first few years of the unification. Any savings will be in 5-10 years down the road. The 40% reduction in senior grades can only be achieved when people leave the system, so there won’t be any immediate savings there.”
Cllr Hanafin also mentioned issues with the amalgamation that still have to be resolved, including the harmonisation of rates, which hasn’t been agreed on.
North Tipperary is still classified as part of the Mid-West region and falls under Shannon Development, whereas South Tipperary is part of the South East, which will be problematic in defining an economic development plan for the county.
Expressing agreement with the broad thrust of the methodology for unification proposed by the Group, Minister Hogan indicated his willingness to assist, where necessary, to see the process carried through to completion in time for the 2014 local elections.
Minister Hogan added: “I would like to thank the Implementation Group and the support team and staff in both authorities who are making an excellent contribution to the unification process. I also want to acknowledge the positive engagement to date by councillors and unions in both councils with the process. I can guarantee my full support and that of my Department for the on-going work and my determination to bring the process to a successful conclusion.”