RAISE WILL HELP BRIDGE THE FUNDING GAP Director of Services at Mayo County Council, Tom Gilligan.
Councillors back executive proposal to increase LPT
COUNCILLORS have agreed to increase the rate of the Local Property Tax by 10 percent in order to raise an addition €1.04 million to pay for services under threat due to shrinking Council coffers.
The 10 percent increase will see the majority of households having to pay an increase of either €9 or €22.50 per annum depending on the value of their property. The increase in property tax comes 12 months after councillors rejected a similar proposal by the executive of Mayo County Council to increase the tax by 15 percent in 2019.
However, the uncertainty surrounding the finances of Mayo County Council due to Covid-19 was laid bare to councillors who were warned that the county faces losing up to €16 million in government investment for projects if the council could not provide matching funding.
Following a lengthly debate in which many councillors slammed the running of the council in providing essential services such as hedging, a proposal to adopt a 10 percent increase was proposed by Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Damien Ryan and seconded by Cllr Jarlath Munnelly of Fine Gael.
A counter proposal rejecting the increase was proposed by Independent councillor Mark Duffy and a vote was taken with 20 councillors voting in favour of an increase and ten against.
There wasn’t total unanimity among party members on the proposal, however, with Fianna Fáil councillors Blackie Gavin, Martin McLoughlin, Michael Loftus and Brendan Mulroy voting against it and Fine Gael’s Patsy O’Brien going against party colleagues. The other councillors to vote against were Mark Duffy, Gerry Murray, John O’Malley, Seamus Weir and Christy Hyland.
In order for the increase to take place, councillors demanded that an extra €200,000 be allocated towards hedgecutting while control over spending would be given to the councillors in each of the municipal districts.
Bridge the gap
There are currently 24,000 property owners in Mayo paying property tax in the county with 43 percent paying the tax on property valued below €100,000 while 38 percent pay tax on property valued between €101,000 and €150,000.
At the beginning of the meeting, Director of Services Tom Gilligan explained that Covid had had a significant impact on the councils finances, particularly on their own income. He said the anticipated income drop from parking fees are expected to be between €800,000 and €1 million and another fall of €800,000 from income taken in leisure centres.
Mr Gilligan said that an 10 percent increase will equate to an extra 17 cent per week for most households. “It wouldn’t meet all our demands or requirements but it will certainly help to bridge that funding gap and send out a positive message to Government that we are trying to make up some of the shortfall ourselves,” he said.
Acting Chief Executive Peter Duggan said the 2021 budget will be very challenging and will be almost impossible to bridge the gap without help from central government.
“There are signifiant pressures on our finances until the end of the year and into next year and the following year, and we have to try to prepare for that in our budget,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn said that hotels in the county were already down by 50 percent this year and now was not the time for councillors to sit on their hands and play party politics.
“If we can play our part in helping that spend in Mayo then we have an opportunity to do that and take a leadership role on this and show we are up for the fight on this. For every euro we put aside the Government will match three … I think it would be a crime to let that opportunity go. I hate to see the scenario where we could not match fund projects because we couldn’t make a difficult decision here today,” he said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Al McDonnell said that the councillors can not go back to the ratepayers for more money and the only option is to agree to a ‘modest increase’ in the property tax.
“This is affordable, let us not fool ourselves. Seventeen cents a week is paltry and there is no household that cannot afford that,” he said.
Ballina-based councillor Mark Duffy said ratepayers in the county were not getting value for their rates and asking the people to pay more was incentivising the ‘easy way out.’ Other councillors agreed that the council is not providing the public with an adequate service, with Cllr Blackie Gavin complaining that he allocated money for projects which have not been completed.
As the sole Fine Gael voice against the increase in property tax, Cllr Patsy O’Brien said he would not be fooled. “I’m 16 years in this local authority and I’m not going to be fooled that something is going to be ring-fenced for certain issues. That is not going to happen, it has never happened and it won’t happen,” he said.
Following a 15 minute adjournment to discuss the matter, Cllr Damien Ryan proposed the increase saying the council had to be commanders of their own destiny in the delivery of services.
“We can’t ask for services if we are not in a position to take some sort of responsibility and be commanders of our destiny. If we are going to go to government looking for significant subvention for the running of this council for the next 12 months we can’t do it without taking some level of responsibility here,” he said.