There will be no change to the commercial rate for Mayo businesses in 2021 and plans by the executive of Mayo County Council to reduce the General Municipal Allocation (GMA) allocation has been scrapped ahead of the council’s annual budget meeting next week.
The executive of Mayo County Council had proposed to reduce the GMA allocation for each councillor by up to €11,000 for the coming year in a bid to to help plug the hole in the council’s finances, which have been significantly impacted by Covid restrictions.
The proposal had been angrily rejected by the majority of councillors and following a pre-budget workshop yesterday morning (Monday), councillors and council officials came to an agreement that there would be no changes to the both GMA and commercial rates.
The argument made for the GMA cuts by the council executive was that there was no guarantee that the loss of income which the council experienced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will be filled by the central government.
However, the council received some welcome relief on Friday when the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien wrote to acting chief executive of Mayo County Council, Peter Duggan to inform him that a second tranche of commercial rates rebates were being issued to the local authority.
To date Mayo County Council, has received €8,627,252 in commercial rates rebates with further payments to issue in December.
Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan told The Mayo News that there had been behind the scenes negotiating regarding the GMA and it has been agreed that it will not be touched ahead of next Monday’s annual budget meeting.
“When the budget was adopted last year it was done on the basis that the GMA allocation in 2021 would be the same as 2020. There had been a proposal to reduce the GMA but that has been rejected and the council have come back to us to say it will remain as it was,” he said.
Last year, Mayo County Council increased the commercial rate for businesses by 4 percent with the proviso that there would be no increase in rates for 2021 and no reduction in the General Municipal Allocation (GMA) for that year either.
Cllr Ryan said that any proposal to increase the commercial rate again in 2021 was ‘always off the table’ and will not form any part of the upcoming budget which is to be adopted next week.
Property tax hike
In September the council convinced the majority of councillors to increase the property tax by 10 percent and at the October meeting of Mayo County Council, the acting Chief Executive Peter Duggan told councillors that the 2021 budget will ‘probably be the most difficult budget that this local authority has ever faced’.
“It is not going to be easy. You don’t need me to tell you the affect the pandemic is having on this authority. The local levels of income streams are down significantly and we have to deliver the services that we are obliged to deliver. We are caught in a bind as those services cost but we have to produce a balanced budget,” he warned at the time.
Cllr Ryan said the recent government subvention to the local authority means that adopting the budget will not be as difficult as first feared but still expects some amendments to be made to the draft budget.
“It will not be as difficult but it will be still challenging,” said the Fianna Fáil whip on Mayo County Council.
“The argument the management are taking is to try to spend our way out of a recession which is in line with national policy and the right direction. Shrinking the economy at local level is not the way to go and amendments made to the draft budget will reflect that,” he said.
The annual budget meeting is due to begin next Monday morning with the hope it will be adopted but another day has been set aside on Wednesday, November 25 if more time is needed.
Fianna Fáil have the largest block of councillors on Mayo County Council and along with a coalition of Independents they were able to adopt last year’s budget. It is expected that the same block of councillors will be able to vote through the budget if they come to an agreement.
While welcoming that there will be no reduction in the GMA allocation, Westport-based councillor Christy Hyland said he was proposing an amendment to increase the allocation.
“I am glad that the GMA will not be reduced but I will be making a proposal to have it raised. It is often the only funding available to community groups in the county for projects. It helped fund the lights on the bridges in Westport and there wouldn’t be a lot more positive projects without GMA funding,” he said.