Last Monday, Dublin city councillors agreed the city’s budget for 2019.
It includes €969.6 million in spending – with some changes to parking tariffs and commercial rates, and a slight increase in the fee for waste removal from local-authority housing. There were also some small measures such as €200,000 for two public toilets.
Most of the discussions around how to tweak the budget went on behind closed doors, and some councillors say it’s time to give Dubliners more of a say in some of what gets spend on what, through a process known as “participatory budgeting”.
Asking What People Want
Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh says she has been asking for a participatory budget for years.
Her idea is that members of the public could to vote on and allocate how the council’s discretionary fund – the fund currently doled out by councillors to projects in their areas – is used.
“It’s more transparent and more democratic,” says Ní Dhálaigh. It could be modelled around the participatory budget adopted by South Dublin County Council last year, she says.
“It’s about explaining to people how it works, and getting locals involved in local politics,” she says. And the money in that pot could be spent on anything, since it would be replacing the discretionary fund of €1,080,000, she says.
South Dublin County Council’s 2017 pilot allocated €300,000 to the participatory budgeting process, and selected Lucan as the place to decide how to spend these funds from its six local electoral areas “by lot”, said a spokesperson for the council.
People offered 160 ideas at the proposal stage, through workshops and online submissions. These were whittled down to 17 projects, which went out for ballot.
More than 2,500 ballots were cast online, and eight projects were chosen. These included a playground in Waterstown Park, Christmas lights in Lucan Village, and free book banks in public spaces across Lucan.
“Lucan Funding for [participatory budgeting] comes from the revenue budget and not the capital budget. This means funds have to be spent within the budgetary cycle and cannot be spent on capital projects, such as new buildings,” said the spokesperson.
This year, Clondalkin was selected for South Dublin County Councils participatory budgeting programme, and received 230 proposals.
“It’s to give people more of a say in how their money is being spent in their electoral area,” says for South Dublin Fianna Fáil Councillor Charlie O’Connor. “The process gets them to understand a bit more how the system works.”
The ground rules for the scheme were simple, he says: “Nothing that was getting funding anyway, nothing over 300,000, and something that the council would have control of.”
Following South Dublin County Council’s adoption of the participatory budget, Ní Dhálaigh is once again pushing for the same in Dublin city. “I’m like a dog with a bone now,” she says. “It’s very diverse in what it can do.”
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe says he also supports the idea. He has submitted a motion to the next meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee “that this committee shall pilot the use of ‘participative budgeting’ for 10% of next year’s Discretionary Budget”.
Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey and independent Councillor Ruairi McGinley, on the other hand say they worry a participatory budget could strip more power from local government.
Fianna Fáil group leader Tom Brabazon doesn’t think it would make much difference. “Councillors are very engaged with their constituents. That’s what you bring to the table as a councillor,” he says.
“I would generally reflect what the desires are on the ground for additional infrastructure and improvements to parks and so on,” says Brabazon, but adds that a pilot might be a good idea.
Changes from Last Year
Some of the main changes from last year’s budget are an increase in parking tariffs, commercial rates, and fees for waste removal from local-authority housing.
Parking tariffs have increased slightly in the very high-demand “yellow zone”, and the high-demand “red zone”.
This is the first time parking tariffs have increased since 2008. Yellow-zone tariffs are planned to increase from €2.90 to €3.20, and red-zone tariffs to increase from €2.40 to €2.60 per hour.
The increase is intended to discourage commuters from using these spots to park in all day, and influence people’s decisions on what mode of transport to use, according to the draft budget.
The changes are planned to come into effect in early July, and to generate an extra €3 million per year for the council.
From 2019, the council also plans to increase the rent paid by some of those in local authority housing. The increase would be from €19 per week to €21 per week, for occupants other than the main earner.
Councillors also agreed to a rise of 1.1 percent in commercial rates, which was the main basis for Fine Gael councillors voting against the budget, said group leader and Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam.
“It’s anti-business, and anti jobs,” said McAdam, who also said he is concerned this rise would increase pressure on small businesses in the inner city.
Overall, councillors Lacey and Cuffe called the 2019 budget a conservative one, with little change from previous years.