Cllr Oisín O'Connor

Green Party Councillor for Glencullen-Sandyford, including Ballinteer, Stepaside, Kilternan, Leopardstown, Ballyogan & Glenamuck

Last night the councillors of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown decided how to spend an extra amount of €6.1m that became available for the 2022 budget. Funding went to worthy projects including inclusion projects for children and young people, community facilities, parks and climate action.

Background

When it comes to budgets, there’s a lot more to explain than can be covered in a soundbite or a hashtag so I’ve decided to lay out some important background transparently for everyone here. The Council’s finances have been under pressure the last two years due to 3 main reasons:

  1. Commercial rates arrears: despite many businesses receiving waivers for commercial rates for a considerable amount of time, covid has led to an increase in arrears from €14m at end of 2019 to €21m at end of 2021.
  2. Local Property Tax cuts: councillors have voted to reduce the local property tax by 15% this year, leading to a loss of around €8 million which meant many services had to be cut and a much smaller amoint to invest in new facilities. This 15% represents a saving €1.74/week for families or individuals who own the average €500k home and a saving of €1,000 a year for owners of €2m homes. The Council’s finance director informed us that for every 1% of reduction for the local property tax cut, €518,000 of services and investment for our communities would have to be cut. I was prepared to cut LPT by 2.5% this year but a majority of councillors voted to slash it by 15%, creating an €8m gap in the council budget.
  3. Increased running costs: Partly from covid including provision of more bins and street cleaning facilities. Partly from unprecedented inflation in all sorts of contracts and raw materials for maintenance of important services such as housing maintenance and parks.

It’s important to clarify some myths that are regularly spread around about how the council, and all councils, are funded.

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Myth 1: the council are spending all the Local Property Tax on cycle lanes.

The council gets almost all its allocation for walking and cycling improvements from the NTA. DLR were granted €34.5m in 2022, which is spent on a broad range of things such as new zebra crossings at schools and making kerbs wheelchair accessible. The money being spent on walking and cycling infrastructure is still miniscule compared to what has spent on other transport infrastructure such as the M50 or the Luas.

Myth 2: the council aren’t spending enough building new housing.

No council in the country has enough money to build public housing. Public housing is built with money from central government.

Myth 3: councillors can put something into the budget and it will definitely happen, e.g. a playground.

Councillors do not have day to day control of council operations and we rely on advice from council management on what is feasible and what is not. If council management tell us that a project is not feasible, it does not make sense for us to put budget aside for that.

Funding Inclusion, Community and Climate in 2022

Due to underspend in the 2021 council budget and some additional money that came from central government to address our shortfall from covid, we had a surplus. The council had to make a decision last night on how to allocate €6.1m of funds for our 2022 budget.

Of the €6.1 million, €771,000 is being spent on projects already approved in 2021 but which were delayed for various reasons. €1.55 million is being spent on paying down some of the council’s debts which the auditors have been advising us to do for years.

There are investments in this additional budget in some of our most disadvantaged groups in the community and most money spent is going on initiatives that people all over Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown can benefit from. Some of the highlights of this extra budget:

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🏘️ Estate management: a large amount of money has been dedicated to the upkeep and improvement of our council estates
🏬 Community centre upkeep: many of our community centres were in dire need of repairs and this budget will enable community centres to keep offering the great programmes and facilities they always do.
♿ Promotion of employment opportunities for people with disabilities: this is a dedicated fund to help people with disabilities to find work that matches their skills and abilities
🚸 An increase in playground maintenance funds and more accessible (wheelchair user friendly) playground equipment in existing playgrounds.
🤸‍♂️Funding for facilities for teenage use in the “Dundrum Area”. In this context, “Dundrum Area” means everywhere in DLR that’s west of the N11. We will ensure this funding is put to good use.

⚡large council buildings are currently quiet energy inefficient. To reach our carbon emissions targets, we need to invest money in our buildings to reduce energy use. This ranges from replacing old boilers, insulation, adding solar panels or refitting windows and ventilation systems.

📚Library supports specifically for children with additional sensory and accessibility needs.
♿ Dedicated cycling training for people with disabilities. The council have purchased a range of adapted cycles that people of all abilities can use and this funding helps provide training on how to use them.

I was happy to support funding all of these items that emphasise inclusion, community and climate action. All information about DLR’s annual budgets is published online.

Full additional budget approved

Grandstanding for outrage

Unfortunately, there was some grandstanding at the council meeting last night, with a motion tabled by Independent and Fine Gael councillors to remove the funding for teen facilities and reallocate it to build 2 playgrounds. The sum of money, €150,000, wouldn’t build one standard playground at today’s construction prices but the proposal was to spread that money thinly over 2 playgrounds. Council management gave clear advice why this wasn’t practical to do and the majority of councillors voted to retain the funding for teenage facilities.

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Management advised that they wouldn’t be able to deliver on the two playgrounds being promised by these councillors so it would be an allocation of money to playgrounds that would not get built. A majority of councillors saw sense and voted with the original proposal as shown above. Funding inclusion, community and climate.

Future plans

Council management gave a firm commitment last night that the new Play Policy, which will guide how play facilities are built in future, would be complete by the end of this year. I will continue to pursue this and insist that this timeline is kept to. I will be again proposing that the Local Property Tax is not cut next year which would make more than enough funds available to build new play facilities for children growing up in the area.

I’m absolutely committed to delivering an outdoor play facility for Sandyford that serves the children of Kilcross and other communities west of the village. To the east of the village, there are two playgrounds within 10 minutes walk of the Hillcrest/Kilgobbin junction but these don’t serve the communities to the west of the village very well.

Similarly, I’m committed to an outdoor play facility in Woodpark in Ballinteer for which parents in the area have worked tirelessly on a proposal and on engaging the local community there. I believe something can be delivered there that addresses the concerns raised by some residents.

Any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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