Donegal County Council’s annual Budget meeting is one of the most crucial the authority holds each year. Its decisions determine the level and extent of services that the Council is going to provide over the next 12 months.
The process is primarily led out by the elected members. They are responsible for the final decision to strike a rate and therefore adopting the Budget which basically determined what money is to be spent in different areas.
They are assisted in this by Director of Finance, Emergency Services and Information Systems, Garry Martin who is in turn supported by the staff in the Finance section, the council’s management accountant and a small team of key staff assisted by lead personnel within each individual service and directorate.
It all culminates on Budget day, which this year is on Wednesday, November 18 and while it is governed by strict legislation, statutory regulations, requirements and processes, this meeting basically decides what happens in 2016.
The work of the Chief Executive and the Senior Management Team throughout the year has steered the local authority towards the targets set out in last year’s Budget and of course the Council’s ongoing aims are already clear in the Corporate Plan 2015-2019. This focuses on areas such as economic development, job creation, infrastructure, services, ongoing supports for arts, culture, environment, heritage and languages, the promotion of sustainable and inclusive communities and the support and development of the Council’s organisational capacity to achieve its objectives.
Like every other year, the 2016 Budget will present new challenges. Last year it took in excess of €131 million to run the county. The work to arrive at the new budget figures has been ongoing for some time now.
On Budget day itself the Director of Finance’s presentation will outline the council’s performance for the year to date and its estimated outturn.
This takes into consideration the material adjustments from the previously adopted budget including things like additional grants, unexpected areas of expenditure and even unexpended areas that might have been budgeted for.
“This gives the councillors an understanding of the performance of the last budget, and what the trending issues are before they consider the adoption of next year’s budget.”
Garry Martin, the Director of Finance explains that in the context of preparing the Budget for 2016 the process began mid-year with engagement with the Council’s Corporate Policy Group outlining to them what was known at that stage in relation to policy changes; any major material adjustments, availability of budget or stemmed areas and take advice from them on how these issues might be looked at or addressed.
There were also formal meetings and workshops with councillors at county, municipal and individual levels to deal with some of the major issues, taking in their feedback on their priorities and providing clarification.
Another part of the process involves gathering data internally from August onwards.
“This involves a fairly extensive process with the individual services identifying what the likely outturn for the current year is and then, more importantly, trying to get an understanding of what the primary incomes sources are for the following year and also then identifying what the expenditure demands are.
“Then we align these with demands coming from councillors, new policies adopted through the Strategic Policy Committees, new demands from central government and new national initiatives.
“We blend all these together to identify what the final demand is for each of the individual services, match that with the overall available income and match affordability with demand,” he said.
He describes it as an ongoing engagement process with all the key stakeholders so that the Council can continue to deliver services, supports and activities in the most efficient and effective way for the people of a Donegal.
- The operational budget for Donegal County Council in 2015 was just in excess of €131 million. You can download the Councils 2015 Budget here.