THORNY ISSUE!

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a ROW has erupted over what turned out to be a thorny issue about giving £1,000 to Stranocum to enter the Translink ‘Ulster In Bloom’ competition.

There was growing controversy as the minutes ticked on at the main monthly meeting of Ballymoney Council.

DUP councillor Evelyne Robinson said normally all the money in conjunction with putting up plants in Stranocum is raised locally but this year they fell short by £1,000.

She asked the Council to take up the shortfall as a one-off and eventually the DUP succeeded in getting a majority to support paying £1,000 to Stranocum and District Community Association, which, it appears likely, will have to come out of Council cash reserves.

Other councillors had no objections to Stranocum getting £1,000 but they said in the interests of fairness other villages should also get £1,000.

The debate had its roots in Ballymoney Council entering Stranocum for the ‘Ulster In Bloom’ competition.

When the matter was previously discussed at a Council committee it had been agreed by councillors the Council ‘would be unable to accede to this request as no budgetary provision had been made’.

But at the main Council meeting a lively debate stemmed from the earlier decision.

Cllr Robinson proposed that the Council does in fact give £1,000.

Each year, she said the Stranocum community group provides “all the finance” for their entry into the competition and this year after a door-to-door collection they had a £1,000 shortfall.

She said local people have cleaned the village and put out plants.

Cllr Robinson said the Council entered Stranocum into the competition and local people have done all they can to raise the cash and need assistance on this occassion.

But Sinn Fein councillor Philip McGuigan said that while he had no problem with Stranocum getting £1,000 all villages should get a similar amount.

Cllr Robinson said the situation was that the Council had entered Stranocum in ‘Ulster In Bloom’ and not other villages.

Alderman Bill Kennedy (Ulster Unionist) said he had no difficulty in supporting either view put forward but it was not in the spirit of a community group to have “money thrown at them”.

He wondered what the £1,000 was needed for and added: “But judging what I see in B&Q it would get you a fair load (of plants).”

Cllr Robinson’s enthusiasm for the £1,000 suggestion was deep-rooted and she added: “The village is already planted out. The provider has supplied the plants and they have still to pay for them.”

She said over £5,000 could be spent in Stranocum in connection with the Ulster In Bloom competition.

Cllr Robinson said the village is on the verge of being judged and she was not suggesting that the Council ‘throw money’ at any village but this was an exceptional case and the people in Stranocum had “toiled” to raise the cash this year and in previous years.

DUP councillor Frank Campbell said the money woes were imposed on Stranocum by the Council deciding to enter the village in the competition.

“They were put under this pressure by this Council. Without consulting them, this Council entered them in Ulster in Bloom. We should take a bit of responsibility,” he added.

Cllr McGuigan said he didn’t want to be a “kill-joy” but in the current economic climate the planting of flowers along roads was not a top priority for people who speak to him.

He said areas like Dunloy, Rasharkin, Cloughmills and Ballybogey would love £1,000 to do as they wished and he repeated that if Stranocum gets such an amount other areas should too.

Cllr McGuigan said the public would think councillors “heads were cut” by spending such an amount on flowers in the current financial times.

Cllr Kennedy said there are eleven community associations and he said it would “look terrible bad” if the Council gave to only one.

He said he would love to support Stranocum but it would be a lot of money if they had to give out £11,000 to all community associations.

Cllr Robinson said she has been involved in community efforts in Ballybogey as well where she has “personally supplied plants” and it had not cost her and she was happy to do so and she was the only councillor present at a recent community meeting in Ballybogey.

She said the people in Ballybogey would like to see a coffee shop in the village to get buses to stop on their way to and from Portrush.

She said the Council should look at what they can do for all villages in the future to help them “acquire a pride of place” but Stranocum currently needs assistance as they were “put under an obligation and have been valiant”.

Cllr Anita Cavlan (Sinn Fein) said if plants are left over by Ballymoney Council planting teams there should be some discussion over how they are given out.

She wondered why Council funding of villages has stopped.

Council officer Iris McCleery said the funding criteria changed.

Deputy-Mayor, Cllr Tom McKeown (Ulster Unionist), said he has no problem with villages getting funding but he wondered if villages in other Council areas taking part in the Ulster In Bloom competition get help from their councils.

Cllr Robinson said it was her understanding that each Council enters villages in the competition and after that it is up to each council to decide how to finance it.

Cllr Robinson said as far as she is aware Ballymoney town is entered into the competition and the Council is “100 per cent responsible” for that and the town is looking well for it.

Cllr Kennedy said he believed shopkeepers are involved as well.

He said he recalled past criticism about the area outside Ballymoney Railway Station and around Meetinghouse Street and the Council was not to blame.

Cllr Kennedy said the judges look at private gardens and shops and not just the street areas.

He said there is big competition in the ‘Best Kept’ awards with places like Broughshane and Scarva taking part and “even if £10,000 was given to Stranocum” victory could not be guaranteed.

Council officer Elizabeth Johnston said traders in Ballymoney do play a big role in the competition and provide floral decorations for their premises and in the past particular traders have received special mention from judges for their efforts and the involvement of businesses is very much appreciated by the Council.

Cllr McGuigan said in better economic times he didn’t think they would be having the discussion but he said it was rather ironic or perhaps not ironic that Ballymoney Council was proposing to spend £1,000 for a village when the budget for bilingual streets signs, which he said “enhances” villages, is only £500.

In the end, DUP councillors were among a majority of councillors who voted to give £1,000 funding to Stranocum on this occasion.

Cllr Robinson said the funds should come from the appropriate Council directorate or from reserves, where she said the surplus increased by over £200,000, and she didn’t think £1,000 would make too much of a dent.

Cllr Kennedy was against going into the reserves as the Local Government Auditor had advised the Council to build up their cash reserves.

To take money from reserves “is really bad and reflects badly on this Council,” he added.