Limerick council forced to revise storm bill after department expressed concerns

David Hurley

Reporter:

David Hurley

Email:

david.hurley@limerickleader.ie

Limerick council forced to revise storm bill after department expressed concerns

Stormy conditions on the river Shannon during Storm Ophelia

LIMERICK City and County Council submitted an application to the state for over half a million euro to cover exceptional costs associated with Storm Ophelia, but were knocked back and told that regular wages of staff should not have been included.

After this point was made to the Council by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and its request for €505,069 rejected, a revised application was submitted for €391,041.

A fund of just over €7m was allocated by the department to cover the exceptional costs incurred by local authorities across the country during the aftermath of ex-hurricane Ophelia which saw Met Éireann issue a national status Red weather alert last October.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show Limerick City and County Council initially sought to recoup costs totalling €505,069 from the department under the scheme.

The correspondence, which was signed by Council CEO Conn Murray and acting head of finance, Sean Coughlan, stated the expenditure was “exceptional and can not be met from within existing approved resources”.

In a letter sent to local authorities across the county on November 27, 2017, Sean Hogan, national director for Fire and Emergency Management, expressed concerns about some of the applications which had been received.

“On examination, it has emerged that some claims include elements that are not eligible for funding from this department,” he wrote adding: “Please note we cannot recoup regular wages of staff engaged in the response and clean up”.

In the letter emailed to Council CEOs, Mr Hogan says capital costs associated with infrastructural damage caused by Storm Ophelia are not eligible for recoupment.

“The costs are envisaged to include: costs such as staff overtime, hire of plant and contractors for necessary immediate works e.g. road patching, materials associated with the response, clean-up and necessary immediate works e.g. sandbags, building materials etc”.

Given the concerns which were identified, local authorities were advised to “re-examine” their claims and to amend them if needed.

Documents obtained by the Limerick Leader show that an amended application for funding was submitted by Limerick City and County Council to the department on December 1, 2017.

“The final figure is amended to exclude basic pay and associated ER PRSI,” states a cover email from an official in the finance section.

The amended application for funding, which again was signed by Messrs Murray and Coughlan,  totalled €391,041 – almost €115,000 lower than what was originally sought by the Council.

In a further letter sent to Mr Murray on December 19, 2017 an official at the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management confirmed the payment of the monies.

“I am pleased to inform you a total of €391,041 has been paid to Limerick City and County Council in recognition that the work undertaken could not be funded from within existing approved resources.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government confirmed Councils were not required to submit any supporting documentation or receipts with their applications for funding under the scheme.