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Householders warned to pay up or face court

Householders warned to pay charge or face court

Council issues letters threatening legal action

Anton McNulty

Over 10,000 householders in Mayo have been warned to register and pay the €100 household charge – or face the prospect of legal action in the next month.
A special meeting of Mayo County Council revealed that 10,600 properties have been identified as having not paid the household charge, and that final warnings are to be delivered to them in coming days. Mayo County Manager Peter Hynes and his Head of Finance, Peter Duggan, both reiterated that the only way to avoid reductions in public funding was to pursue those who have not yet paid the charge.
The special meeting was requested by Fianna Fáil members of Mayo County Council to discuss the implications of a €2.6 million cut to the Local Government fund, introduced to cover the shortfall in funds to be raised by the Goverment’s household charge.
Mr Hynes explained that following discussions with the Minister Phil Hogan and Department of Environment officials, it was agreed that funding would not be cut if there was a 75 to 80 per cent collection rate. The current figure stands at 68.6 per cent. Mr Hynes said that the Council may ‘unfortunately’ require legal action to achieve the target level.

Expenses row

Independent councillor Frank Durcan accused Mr Hynes of showing ‘little moral consciousness’ by calling on people to pay the €100 charge while he claimed €22,390 in expenses for 2011. He said that Mr Hynes had claimed €100 ‘for every working day’. He also accused former County Manager Des Mahon of being a ‘freeloader’ for claiming €3,022 in expenses despite being retired.
“I want to know, are there employees in the council who are paid transport expenses to get from home to work?” Cllr Durcan asked.
Cllr Durcan then revealed that council workers, who had contacted him confidentially, were unhappy that this practice was widespread at executive level. They were ‘totally demoralised’ by this, and wanted it to stop.
Cllr Durcan went on to say that the council workers’ claims had been backed up by data he received after placing a Freedom of Information request in relation to Council officials’ expenses. “[Mr Hynes] shows little moral consciousness considering the salary he is on. No private company would allow for such expenses,” he said.
However, Mr Hynes defended his expenses claim and those of other council officials, saying that he does not work a nine-to-five job and works hard attempting to bring investment into the county.

‘No apologies’
“My job requires a lot more of me besides sitting here at this bench. I spend a lot of my time outside the county chasing investment opportunities and I make no apologies for that,” Mr Hynes said. “If someone wants to lay a claim of misappropriation then do so, and I will meet them at the appropriate location. It will be an extremely sad day if, because of narrow-mindedness, I will be forced to do a nine-to-five job and become a pen pusher and another bureaucrat.”
Mr Hynes explained to the councillors that there was no other option but to collect the charge, as the reduction in funding would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on services.
To date, 34,479 properties have paid the charge. He said that ‘at the current rate of collection’, he felt that 70 per cent of the fund would be collected by the end of September. He added that he believes that the Council will hit its target and will so retain the budget as it was adopted last January.
Mayo County Council are using data bases from ESB networks, geo-directories, the Non Principal Private Residence (second home) datebase, and the Revenue Commissioners to identify households that have not paid. Householders who have not paid are being warned to expect legal proceedings to be taken against them.
“The last reminder letters have been sent this evening [Monday] or will be sent the first thing tomorrow,” explained Head of Finance, Peter Duggan. “The final leg of the collection process will involve legal action, and the Council will unfortunately be bringing the first case forward to the District Court in October. This will involve recovering the household charge and penalties as well as legal costs. Whilst it is unfortunate, there is no other option … we need to get the rate up.”
Much of the blame for the low collection rate of the charge was put at the feet of Minister Phil Hogan by the Fianna Fáil members. However, they welcomed the minister’s ‘U-turn’, whereby he said he would not slash budgets if a collection rate to 75 per cent was achieved. Fianna Fáil councillor Micheál McNamara said the minister underestimated the level of opposition to the charge. He said that if it had been properly thought out from the beginning, the collection rate would have been higher.
Independent councillor Gerry Ginty said that there were lies being told over what the charge will be used for, claiming it was going to bail out the bankers and would not be used for local services. He said he was prepared to pay his dues but was not prepared to ask people to pay this charge while tax exiles ‘get away scot-free’, and that it was the people’s duty to defy a ‘corrupt’ law.
Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh said it was ‘disingenuous’ of the Council Executive to say that there was no other option. However, Fine Gael councillor Joe Mellet said it was time for all members to ‘wear the green and red’ and put politics to one side to help the survival of the county and the Council.
Earlier in the summer, Mr Hynes issued a Managerial Directive to stop all hedge cutting and road maintenance due to budget constraints. This is what led many of the councillors to call for the special meeting. Mr Hynes defended his decision saying that if he did not issue the directive, the Council would have more things to worry about, including turning off street lights.

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