*The vote was held on Monday in the Council Chamber.
A VOTE TO REDUCE the local property tax rate in Clare was resoundingly defeated on Monday and instead councillors opted to keep the highest rate for the next two years.
Homeowners in the county will now pay fifteen percent above the standard rate in 2023 and 2024 following the decision reached at Monday’s meeting of the local authority. The increased rate has been in place in Clare for the past three years.
Shannon based, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) submitted a proposal to reduce the rate by fifteen percent and he was supported in his call by Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) and Cllr Ann Norton (IND).
Both Flynn and McGettigan have for the past two years attempted to reduce the rate but have been defeated by the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael majority of county councillors, Cllr Michael Begley (IND), Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) and Cllr Liam Grant (GP) also sided with the majority to squash the reduction proposal by 23-3 while the duo of Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) and Cllr Mary Howard (FG) were absent for the vote.
For the Chief Executive of the County Council to propose an increase in the standard rate for the next two years was “disgraceful,” Cllr Flynn commented. He said a change should only be applied on a single year basis. “It’s very easy to get bogged down by statistics, we’ve got a lot through the Chief Executive and Head of Finance but for most people they are concerned about coping when the cost of living has gone out of control”.
Not changing the rate served as “a failure on us to not recognise the hardship on families,” said Cllr McGettigan. She noted that the difference in a couple of euros for some equated with the presence or absence of a pint of milk on the table for a family.
At Government level it is acknowledged that “difficult times are coming”, Cllr Norton noted while referencing how the upcoming Budget will recognise the difficulties people are facing. “We’re going to have a very difficult winter. The Government are aware that people are suffering. People are finding it difficult to put food on the table and are scared of what is coming. We’re coming out of one crisis where people didn’t know if they were coming or going, now we’re heading into another crisis that is going to leave a financial hit on so many people”. The Barefield woman admitted she found it difficult to sit in the Chamber when colleagues wished to see the status quo maintained.
Reference to a reduction rate bands set by the Government last December which means many Clare homeowners will pay less tax was made by Cllr Pat Hayes (FF). He claimed property owners would be paying €1.5m less and that the Council would lose €1.375m to alter the LPT rate. “I don’t see anyone coming down to hand us that money. There is an onus on us to balance the budget. What services do you want to cut in housing, roads and the environment. This isn’t palatable for any of us, it’s where we are at the moment”.
All representatives are aware of concerns and inflation, Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) insisted. “It is very important we continue to deliver services. In fairness to the Government, there is a budget coming out and they are talking about spending €7bn to help families get through these tough times”.
Clarity was sought by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) on the amount of households that will receive a rates band reduction.
Pat Dowling, the Council’s Chief Executive said he stood over the proposal to maintain the highest rate for the next two years. “It would be disgraceful not to manage the finances of Clare County Council appropriately”. He added, “there is nothing disgraceful about trying to maintain the services we provide”.
Head of Finance, Noeleen Fitzgerald outlined that the local authority had spent over €100m in the first six months of 2022 with “increasing energy bills”. She noted that a return to the standard rate would lead to a loss of €1.4m while the reduction proposed would equal a loss of €2.75m “when we already know energy bills can increase by €2m”. She explained that social housing tenants do not pay local property tax and the loss of €2.75m “would be an annual saving of €20 to the property owners”.
Vote on proposal to reduce rate of local property tax in Clare –
AGAINST: Cllr Mark Nestor (FF), Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG), Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), Cllr Paul Murphy (FG), Cllr Pat Daly (FF), Cllr Joe Cooney (FG), Cllr Pat Hayes (FF), Cllr Pat Burke (FG), Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF), Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF), Cllr John Crowe (FG), Cllr Michael Begley (IND), Cllr PJ Ryan (IND), Cllr Pat McMahon (FF), Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF), Cllr Shane Talty (FF), Cllr Joe Killeen (FF), Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG), Cllr Liam Grant (GP), Cllr PJ Kelly (FF), Cllr Bill Chambers (FF), Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF)
FOR: Cllr Ann Norton (IND), Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND), Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF)
NOT PRESENT: Cllr Mary Howard (FG), Cllr Ian Lynch (IND)