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Notes from introductory meeting to Cork County Council

Introductory meeting to new elected members of Cork County Council
Council Chamber, 03/06/2014

Tim Lucey, Chief Executive Cork County Council

There are 8 Municipal Districts proposed for County Cork.
There will be massive change in the county without Town Councils.
There are 3 Divisional Committees in the county (North, South and West).
The statutory functions between the Divisional Committees and the Municipal Districts need to be sorted out over next 12 – 15 months.
As a consequence of the Local Government Reform Act, the county is very much a transitional phase.
The Chief Executive (formerly County Manager) is particiularly keen that the muncipal districts become a success.
Some functions such as roads, housing, environment and planning services are organised on a county basis, not broken down into the municipal district structure.

Some statistics:
County Cork has had a 10.3% increase in population since 2006.  The population is now 399,216 (2011).
Its size is such that it is equivalent to 3 – 4 other local authorities combined.
County Cork covers 7,459 square kilometres, i.e. 11% of the Irish State.
The county has more than 7,500 miles of public roads, i.e. 14% of the nation’s total.
Cork County Council has dealt with 20,000 planning applications in the last 5 years.
The County Fire Service operates from 21 fire stations.  It costs €12.7 million to operate annually and responds to approx 3,000 emergency calls per year.
The coastline of County Cork is 1,100 km long, i.e. 19% of the length of coastline of the Irish State.
The county has 1,200 km of rivers.
It has 50,000 registered library users.
The county’s social housing stock is more than 8,000 units.

Staff numbers in Cork County Council have fallen from 3,468 to 2,650.
There has been a 27.2% reduction in staff on the ground (from 2,947 to 2,146).
The revenue budget is down 15% in day to day budget from €360.8m in 2008 to €306.7 m in 2014.

The demand for social services such as parks and playgrounds increases in periods of economic downturn.

Levels of funding coming into the local government system are unlikely to change over next 3 – 4 years.

This Council will have to prepare the County Development Plan 2015 – 2021.  A draft of the plan has been on public display for 3 – 4 months.  Members will be briefed separately on this.  The Chief Executive will report on submissions to the County Development Plan to members.

Members will also be obliged to contribute to preparation and passing of the Cork County Council 2015 budget.  A decision on whether an adjustment will be made in Local Property Tax must be taken by end September.  It is not likely that additional money will go into local government.  Funding of local government is mostly through exechquer funding.  But the Local Government Fund has been reduced by the amount of money got through Local Property Tax.  So essentially there has been no additional money into local government at all as a result of the Property Tax.  It is a challenge to get this message out.

Budget 2015 must also examine the issue of commercial rates harmonisation.  With abolition of town councils,  the County Council needs to see how rates across nine former UDCs can be harmonised.  €74 is the county rate at present. Some towns will face an increase and we need to decide how to manage this.  Mallow, for example, is €58.  The County Council depends on rates for income and does not want to see a reduction of money coming in to run local government either.  So it will be a challenge to get this right.

All of our towns need to be supported as best we can because they are the future growth engines of the county.  Municipal districts are being set up and every town is to have a similar level of service over time.  The County Council will aim for this over next 2 – 3 years.  It will be a challenge because different towns have different strneghts and set-ups.

Economic development:
The South Cork Local Enterprise Office has been recently set up.  This will add to the economic activities the County Council performs.  Cork County and Cork City Councils set up the economic development fund funded from rates a few years ago.  Considerable emphasis will be placed on this over the coming years.

Community and social issues :
There is an ongoing programme of work in this area both nationally and locally.  The local development companies programme continues tomove on to ensure better integration between the work of local development companies and county councils.  The extent of money Cork County Council puts into community development is not always recognised and is often somewhat overshadowed by the local development companies.  There is a suspicion that communities might suffer from integration of the local development companies and the county councils.  The Chief Executive is certain that they won’t; there is a certain level of duplication at present.  The elected members of the County Council are the only people who have a legitimate mandate to represent the interests of our communities.

There are a significant number of community service programmes in place.

Environmental and energy matters:
The County Council must have policies that support investment decisions in infrastructure and industry that recognises national policy and that, on balance, supports the future development of our county.  We are, as a county, recognised nationally as always taking the right decision to support business and growth.

The aspects of the elected members’ role:

  • represent constituents locally
  • be part of the goverment of this county for the services and business areas we are charged with.

County Councils are the only company that has to encompass all aspects of the physical, social, infrastructural, cultural, community and environmental development whilst also taking care of the public good.  Consequently, a balanced approach is required.

Sean O’Callaghan, Corporate Services Cork County Council 

The Municipal District Officer for Ballincollig – Carrigaline is Kevin O’Regan.  Other MDOs for other regions also identified.
Each member of Cork County Council will be a member of the full Council, a Divisional Committee and a Municipal District Committee.  They will also be members of other committees of Cork County Council.
They may be nominees to some external bodies, e.g. CC ETB, Regional Health Forum, AILG, Southern  & Eastern Regional Assembly.
The Southern Committee meets on 3rd Monday at 11am.  (County Hall for me.)

The Development Committee is a meeting of full council held in committee on 3rd Friday of every month at 11 am.

The Municipal District Committee will be held once per month starting on Thurs 12 or Fri 13th June.

There are two further meetings of the full Council – the annual meeting in June and the budget meeting in December.

Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs) assist council in policy making progress.  Membership of SPCs includes sectoral interests.  The relevant Director of Service from within Cork County Council will attend.
Revised guidelines for SPCs have been issued from the Department.  These will be implemented shortly.

A Mayor or chairperson is elected for each Municipal District.  A Chairperson is also elected for each SPC.

The Corporate Policy Group meets on 1st Tuesday of every month.  It comprises chairs of SPCs and Municipal Districts.  The CPG advises and assists Council in policy making.  It also links the work of all the SPCs and develops consistent policy for all Municipal Districts.

Councillors are entitled to a taxable representational payment of €16,565 per annum paid weekly in arrears.

The annual expenses allowance is:
–       based on mileage from home to County Hall
–       includes payments for subsistence and postage
–       payment made monthly in arrears
–       subject to a minimum of 80% attendance at meetings.

There is also a conference and mobile phone allowance.  The conference allowance has been reduced and set at €1,000 per councillor per annum.  Between now and December it is reduced to €500.  The Department has also set increased requirements in relation to reporting back to full Council.  The mobile phone allowance is a maximum of €600 per year per member.

All members are to sign the attendance book at full Council meetings
Car parking – free on full Council meeting day outside motor tax office.
Swipe cards – currently being prepared.  Will be ready for Friday.
Photographs – nomination paper photos will be used for website and info for management team.
Members’ rooms – working with facilities manager on this.
Council website – currently being updated.

Members will attend a briefing about planning, housing and roads on the 18th June at 11am.
Further briefings will be arranged on finance and environment.
All members will be required to attend training by AILG on 26th June.

Tim Lucey, Chief Executive Cork County Council

New members will find they have a massive amount of stuff to take on.  A phenomenal amount of change has arisen from Local Government Reform as well.  8 Regional Authorities go to 2 Regional Assemblies and there are likely to be further changes arising from this.  The biggest immediate piece of work is the County Development Plan.  The Council will be dealing in due course with 8 Local Area Plans.  Policy development is critical – the basis upon which we make determinations on zoning, etc.  That’s 18 – 24 months down the road.

When Municipal District Committees get up and running, we’ll get the feel for what’s happening locally.

Divisional committees – will arrange on a quarterly basis that the Directors of Service will give specific briefings to members on updates.

There is no update on whether there will be increased representation on SPCs because Town Councillors are gone.  Guidelines for revision of SPCs have been issued.  It is really up to the SPCs themselves to decide.  The CPG will decide on committees in due course also because of the increase in the number of Council members.

8 SPC Chairs will be decided on Friday.  The first CPG meeting will comprise these 8 Chairs and the County Mayor.  In July, the CPG meeting will have a full compliment of members.  There will be no changes to SPC structures until then.

The County Council is working towards circulating all documentation electronically.  It is also developing a members-only external area of the website.

Motions to meetings have to be submitted today for agenda to go tomorrow for Monday.  They must always submitted by Tuesday for the following Monday.  One notice of motion per member per meeting is permitted.

Alternative to proposed Local Government Reform

Whilst the inadequacy of Irish institutions in handling finance is well proven, consider basic distribution channel theory.  In distribution, the term “middleman” describes an intermediary between a producer and an end customer.  The middleman adds an extra step in the distribution chain, puts a mark-up on for himself and generally adds cost.  It is regarded as good to eliminate the middleman.

A middleman without direct link to a producer has lost his raison d’être.  He simply swims aimlessly, clutching at any marketable merchandise.  His mere existence is an unnecessary expense.  In Irish local government, there is only one middleman: the County Council.  And elimination of this expense is entirely feasible.

The structure for sustainable, bottom-up local government in this country is already in place.  Rural districts were created in the Local Government Act 1894.  Typically, they looked like a doughnut shaped ring around a town.  The town was managed by the then equivalent of the Town Council whilst the affairs of the rural district were the responsibility of the Rural District Council.  Each had an extensive statutory role.  When Rural District Councils were abolished by the Local Government Act 1925, all their functions were transferred to the County Councils.  But because rural districts are subdivided into the electoral districts we use today, they continue to be used for statistical analysis.

The only sustainable, affordable way of implementing bottom-up local government is to consider a town and its rural hinterland to be intrinsically linked and each to be the responsibility of a Rural District Council.  Each rural district, including its central town, would elect nine representatives to that Council.  Membership would be considered to be a part-time role.  Headquarters of the Rural District Council at the existing Town Council offices would be manned by a single full-time administrative staff member.  Each of the rural districts already has County Council Area Offices, so an engineer from each Area Office could function without additional cost as the Rural District Engineer.  Management would be a shared function with Cork County Council.

Rural District elected members would receive representational payment similar to that currently received by members of a former UDC, i.e. €5,000 p.a.  They would have limited statutory functions, performing primarily representational, rating and social functions, similar to Town Councils.  Unlike Town Councils, they would be statutorily consulted on such issues as planning and housing.  Their annual budget would be limited and similar to that of current UDCs.

Three elected representatives from each Rural District Council would convene at Cork County Council headquarters monthly for a countywide meeting.  This would be the new County Council and the principal opportunity for elected members from each rural district to present the financial arguments for their area to the County Council executive.

Were such an approach to be considered, there would be a suggested 14 Rural District Councils, each with nine elected members in County Cork.  At a practical level, some rural districts would need to be amalgamated such that each Rural District Council would have responsibility for 20,000 – 30,000 people.  But at least the amalgamations would be between towns with established relationships and with sufficient proximity to have relevance to each other.  For example, it would make sense to amalgamate the Fermoy and Mitchelstown rural districts to yield a Rural District Council with responsibility for a total population of almost 32,000.  Both towns are adjacent and work closely together.  Public representation for each citizen would be 1:3,555.  While still greater than the European norm, it is better than the current 1:7,200 and the post-reform proposed representation ratio of 1:7,000.  Crucially, such an approach would bring citizens closer to their elected representatives and would allow real local issues to relay directly to the County Council executive.

No system of local government is without its drawbacks, but if well managed, the interactions between towns and countryside are the basis for a balanced regional development which is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.  And happy rural areas mean happy cities and suburbs.

Update on meeting of Passage West Town Council with Cork County Council Area Engineer

  • Request that the barriers around the Centre Block would be moved in for the Easter weekend. The Area Engineer said that she would speak to the contractors.
  • The slip at Toureen/Patrick Murphy Park is dangerous. The hand rail is corroded. The Town Council will be requested to pay for a new one at a cost of €200. It will be fabricated locally.
  • The picnic tables to be erected in Patrick Murphy Park/Toureen will be:

o Between the seats in Patrick Murphy Park

o Opposite Derek O’Brien’s

o Opposite the Tavern

  • Request that the concrete plinths under the tables would be made flush with the grass, firstly to facilitate wheelchair access and secondly, to facilitate neat grasscutting.
  •  Sods in the old church need to be taken away. The Area Engineer said that she would look after this.
  •  The Festival Committee wants a plaque erected in Fr. O’Flynn Park in time for the festival and is seeking the assistance of the Area Office in this regard. The Area Engineer said the timescale was short but that she would do her best.
  •  The 10k Road Race is next week. The Area Engineer said that the contractors used by the Area Office for grasscutting had started their work in Monkstown today and so the grass should be complete in time for the Road Race.
  • Request that the road sweeper should make a visit to the town in advance of the Road Race. Also that notice should be given of its coming so that footpaths could be swept onto the road for debris to be picked up by the road sweeper. In particular there is much gravel on the road around the area where the Road Race is to finish. Noted that visits from the road sweeper were far more frequent before Christmas 2013. The Area Engineer said that she would try to get the road sweeper.
  •  There is a water hydrant cover missing on Church Hill adjacent to the Eircom building. This is dangerous.
  • Request that the Area Office might place boulders on the edges of the grass at Toureen on a temporary basis to stop cars from using the grass as a parking space.
  • Request that the Area Office might donate some tar to fill potholes in the car park at the GAA Club in advance of the Road Race. If the tar is donated, the Club will look after the filling of the holes.
  • Concerned that the County Council operatives who empty bins, etc. in Passage West will be operating throughout a larger area and without additional staff. Concerned that Passage West might not get the same attention it has been getting to date, particularly with regard to emptying of the Water Tower and emptying of the litter bins. The Area Engineer said that the operatives have been operating that larger area since Christmas. The best service possible will be provided.
  • Observed that litter bins are not always emptied in advance of weekends. This causes great mess in the town and negates the litterpicking work the Tidy Towns does during the week. Request that the Tidy Towns would be given a key for the litterbins such that they are not emptied by Friday, the Tidy Towns would be able to empty them and put the bags in the water tower for subsequent collection by Cork County Council. The Area Engineer agreed that this would likely be possible and that she would look into it.
  • Request that the two litterbins with broken locks would have those locks replaced.
  • Acknowledgement that the Area Office has previously requested that voluntary effort would not be used to clean the LHS of the R610 from Passage West to Rochestown. Request that the Area Office should clear this side of the road of litter. It is intended that the all-community clean-up on 23rd April in advance of the Road Race will look after the cleaning of the footpath on the RHS. The Area Engineer reiterated that cleaning the LHS of the road is a very dangerous job and one which she could not condone the local community doing. She said cleaning of roadsides subject to dumping is a task regularly requested of the Area Office. They know it is necessary but simply do not have the resources. She will ask the operatives to be aware of it and to do the best they can but is not hopeful it can be tackled.
  • Request that the footpath from Pembroke Wood across the R610 to the Rockenham side should be dished. Appreciation of the works done crossing at the bottom of Rockenham, but there are 400-odd houses in Pembroke Wood and dishing should also have been carried out to facilitate those residents. The Area Engineer agreed and said that she would investigate further.
  • Request that the footpath up the Glen in Monkstown should be fixed and widened to facilitate the elderly. The Area Engineer said that she was aware this was necessary and would follow it up.
  • The Tidy Towns has done a survey of signage throughout the town. Request that if they send a list of redundant and damaged signage to the Area Office that these might be removed or addressed as appropriate. The Area Engineer agreed that this would be fine.
  • Request for advice and assistance with regard to rehabilitation works the Tidy Towns hopes to undertake at Steampacket Quay/Penny’s Dock. The anticipated works were costed in accordance with a quote received from a recommended contractor. However the contractor omitted one essential element of the intended job in the quotation and so the project is now undercosted. Despite best efforts, no cheaper quotation can be got and so the Tidy Towns is short of funds. The Area Engineer acknowledged that the project is worthwhile and the Area Office can offer limited assistance with regard to making up the shortfall. The Town Council also offered an increase in its already-promised financial contribution to the project to assist with the shortfall.