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Merger of Tipperary councils 'to save €30m over five years'

Phil Hogan has welcomed a formal plan to join the councils by 2014 – but some local councillors question the figures.

Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER Phil Hogan has published a report claiming that the merger of the two separate county councils in North and South Tipperary could save €30 million over five years.

The report, compiled by the Tipperary Reorganisation Implementation Group, believes cutting down on the duplicity of services in the two councils can reduce the councils’ wage bill by 10 per cent.

The report – commissioned by the government last year, after it announced its intention to merge the two councils when the next local elections are held – says the number of staff on senior pay grades could be reduced by up to 40 per cent.

Interestingly, the report recommends the retention of two principal centres at Clonmel and Nenagh, meaning the newly reunited county would not have a single ‘county town’.

This is suggested in an effort to reflect the two towns’ “pivotal location” as well as their local prominence, with some council functions specialised at one of the two council offices, though both would still provide “frontline services”.

The merger of the two councils by 2014 could mean the various commercial rates and service charges levied by each council would be harmonised, ending anomalous situations where areas close to each other, on opposite sides of the border, are hit with different levels of charges for near-identical services.

Hogan said he was “very pleased” with the progress being made by the group, but stressed that the merger was not motivated by money, but rather by “stronger, more cohesive local government”.

Councillors’ reactions

The current cathaoirleach of South Tipperary County Council, Fine Gael’s John Crosse, said he remained positive about the overall decision to merge the councils.

“While there’s downsides – less representation, obviously, because there’s less councillors – we as councillors are welcoming the plan,” he said. “There’ll be more money available to be put out to services within the county.

In the fullness of time it will benefit people, whether they’re paying charges or anything else.

His counterpart in the North Tipperary council, independent councillor Michael O’Meara, was slightly more reserved in his praise – and questioned the €6.2 million annual savings that the report believed it could find.

“I can see there are pros and cons, but I can see more against it,” he said. “There are positives for the Tipperary brand name – which is recognised all over the world – but I cannot see the savings that Minister Hogan is talking about.

“For a start-off there will be cost implications for the Department, of €1.8 million in upgrading IT system, then [the costs of] staff and changing around the two different offices,” he said, suggesting the latter would cost about €500,000.

“Initially there’ll be a cost to the exchequer of €2.3 million,” he claimed, saying he “can’t see how” projected savings of €6.2 million each year could be “possible for the foreseeable future”.

Neither Crosse nor O’Meara said difficulties about the separate regional identities of people from North Tipperary – which is generally considered part of the mid-west – and South Tipperary, which is seen as part of the southern belt, could be overcome.

Read: Tipperary councils to be merged from 2014

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Gavan Reilly

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