Secret meeting can’t solve budget dispute

County Hall will shortly be the headquarters of the Laois Enterprise Office.
The inaugural budget meeting of Portlaoise Municipal District had to be adjourned at County Hall last Tuesday, as the seven local councillors could not reach an agreement on how to spend the €140,000 available to them.

The inaugural budget meeting of Portlaoise Municipal District had to be adjourned at County Hall last Tuesday, as the seven local councillors could not reach an agreement on how to spend the €140,000 available to them.

After a heated exchange, led by Cllr Willie Aird who objected to a proposal for the €140,000 to be divided equally among the councillors with each being allocated €20,000, the meeting had to be adjourned for the councillors to hold an impromptu in-committee meeting from which the press were excluded. However, after holding private discussions for half an hour the councillors were no nearer an agreement, and it was finally decided to adjourn the meeting altogether to this week.

County manager Gerry Murphy suggested to the councillors that five areas of possible use for the €140,000 be looked at, namely footpaths, radar signs into towns and villages, traffic calming, community projects, and public lighting. These were just suggestions and the councillors could decide to consider other uses for the funds, he said.

“I welcome this money, I felt before we didn’t have any input,” said Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald. “I know my priorities are traffic calming and public lights... We had a discretionary budget and it was taken away from us years ago, now we’re getting it back.”

“I welcome this,” agreed Cllr Caroline Dwane. “There’s nothing stopping councillors coming together to pool together.”

However, while most of the councillors seemed cautiously optimistic, Cllr Willie Aird lambasted a suggestion by the county manager for the €140,000 to be divided up between the councillors, with each councillor being allocated €20,000. He likened the proposal to each councillor being given “a slush fund” and said it would lead to local government being conducted like “an auction” (see side story for more).