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.