LAOIS is poised to enhance its reputation as the ‘events centre of Ireland’ as it is in the running to host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 2014.
Reflecting on some ‘positive parts’ of the council budget, Fine Gael’s Cllr John Bonham expressed delight that €864,700 had been set aside for the operation of the arts programme compared to the €581,000 budgeted for 2012.
“It is great we are making moves to marketing Laois as the events centre of Ireland,” commented Cllr Bonham. He said tourism was key to improving the local economy citing the example of Laois hosting the 2013 National Ploughing Championships, the Rose of Tralee regional final and The Gathering.
Cllr Bonham then mentioned the ‘bigger picture’ and the possibility of a €50m financial injection for Laois with the staging of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann for possibly three years, from 2014 to ‘16.
Head of Finance Gerry Murphy outlined to yesterday’s Budget meeting at Áras an Chontae that €330,000 was budgeted for the Music Generation programme and €130,000 for the Dunamaise Arts Centre.
Cllr Mary Sweeney said Tourism Officer Dom Reddin had raised the profile of the county.
Cllr James Deegan welcomed the setting aside of €50,000 for local road improvements ahead of the National Ploughing Championships and €22,000 for Stradbally Art House.
Mr Murphy pointed out that some of the €820,000 allocated to county road maintenance could also be spent to improve the roadways around Ratheniska. County Manager Peter Carey suggested the provision of €50,000 funding for the Ploughing Championships was prudent.
“We are working to improve our profile and are achieving our objective with the staging of a number of major events.”
Meanwhile, Mr Carey rejected the claim by Fine Gael’s Cllr James Daly that there was a €232,000 underspend on housing.
Mr Carey said there were ‘not underspends’ in relation to the maintenance and improvement of local authority housing units. “The spend reflects the grants we got.”
€2,117,000 was budgeted under this heading for 2012, but only €1,885,000 was spent.The figure budgeted for 2013 is €1,842,000.
Cllr Daly enquired, “Why were there underspends? And I know there are overspends elsewhere before the County Manager takes the head off me!”
For example, €400,000 was budgeted for an energy efficiency programme in 2012 but only €216,000 spent, while €818,000 was budgeted for maintenance with €800,500 being spent.
Replying to Cllr John King, Mr Carey explained that while the building of new Rathdowney and Stradbally fire stations remain in the capital programme they are highly unlikely to proceed next year.