JUST four months into the life of the new merged local authority, a serious divide has opened up between urban and rural councillors over a new €1.5m fund.
Following the unification of City Council and County Council to create a 40-member body, cracks are already beginning to show after the General Municipal Allocation (GMA) was revealed.
In essence, this is a devolved set of powers within the overall budget given to areas, including spend on roads, tourism development, traffic management and playgrounds to spend on special projects.
Of the €1.5m, some €640,000 is allocated in the new metropolitan area - which covers the city and goes as far out as Castleconnell, Patrickswell and Montpelier.
The remaining €860,000 is to go to rural areas.
Council chief executive Conn Murray was given the €1.5m allocation centrally, and he decided where it would go.
Now, Mayor Michael Sheahan has said metropolitan district councillors are considering a challenge to Mr Murray to ensure the city gets a fairer share.
“The big question is whether he has the right to tell the districts who is getting this share of the pie. He is telling us we can spend €1.5m. But he should not be telling us we can only spend 20% in the city. We don’t think he has the right to do that. The breakdown should be the subject of negotiation between the districts,” he said.
Monaleen’s Mayor Sheahan added there is “anger and disappointment” and “a feeling of being let down” among his group.
“We all want to be nice and cosy and friendly with each other, and say we are all great pals. But at the end of the day, it [metro] is still the most important district, and will be the driver of all future economic development,” he said.
The councillors’ challenge is likely to come in the form of an amendment to the GMA - and the blocking of the overall budget has not been ruled out.
The metropolitan district is the only one of the four local areas which did not accept its allocation, and it appears unlikely councillors in Cappamore/Kilmallock, Adare/Rathkeale and Newcastle West will back down.
Newly elected Independent councillor Emmett O’Brien says he is concerned at an “anti-rural divide” on the local authority.
Of particular anger to urban councillors is the discretionary allocation given to roads.
Some €17,500 is available to councillors for discretionary road funding, under half the figure available to councillors in other districts.
Although this is compensated by an overall spend of €92,500 for mainstream traffic management projects, there is a sense of unfairness.
Cllr Shane Clifford, Fianna Fail, said: “There is a road down the street from my house which connects Castleconnell and the old Dublin Road. There are hundreds of cars using it every day. You cannot fit two cars side by side on it. There are laneways of a similar size in South Co Limerick would hardly see a car from one week to another.”
But Cllr O’Brien rejected this, saying: “The overall budget in Adare represents just 15% of what needs to be done. We need to bear in mind we have three of the most important tourist towns here in Adare, Balingarry and Foynes,” he said, “There seems to be a creeping agenda of an anti-rural divide in the City and County Council. Everything is being brought into Limerick which in itself is meritorious, but not to the detriment of the county.”
Fine Gael councillor Bill O’Donnell also defended the increased rural allocation, saying: “We are thinly populated, and we need more units of service as our population is more widely spread.”
In response to a query from the Leader, a council spokesperson said: “The chief executive is legally required to prepare for each district a draft budgetary plan setting out the GMA and its application for the forthcoming financial year”.
She added members of each district can redistribute the allocation provided according to its own priorities.