*Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling. Photograph: Eamon Ward
WITH AN increase in expenditure of €34m, there was unanimous agreement among Clare councillors to pass the County Council’s annual budget for 2024.
For the first time since the local property tax was introduced, the Council will retain 100% of the funds from this tax totalling €11m.
A total expenditure of €184m has been signed off on, a €34m (23%) increase on last year. An approved 0.239 annual rate on valuation (ARV) will see a reduction of 4.4% less than Rates REVAL 2024 indicated rate but some businesses will see an increase in their commercial rates.
Expenditure is divided among housing/building (€36.57m), road transport/safety (€42.01m), water services (€14.88m), development management (€44.74m), environmental services (€19.81m), recreation/amenity (€13.72m), agri/education/health/welfare (€0.81m) and miscellaneous services (€13.88m).
Among the items covered in miscellaneous services are Profit & Loss Machinery Account, Adminstration of Rates, Franchise Costs, Operation of Morgue and Coroner Expenses, Operation of Markets and Casual Trading, Local Representation & Civic Leadership, Motor Taxation plus Agency & Recoupable Services.
Funding for the maintenance of burial grounds is to jump by €130,000. Community Grants €200k reinstatement to 2022 of €200,000 levels plus will have €60k extra in 2024.
Chief Executive, Pat Dowling in his report noted, “The Commercial Property REVAL 2024 has been completed by Tailte Éireann with a new valuation base in place effective from 1st January 2024. There is risk in respect of the outcome of any Valuation Tribunal decisions in the coming years, but updated legislation, as amended in 2019, has facilitated some hedging against this risk in line with Ministerial order. We will continue to support customers as this change is effective. It is positive to see that the process has reduced the Commercial Rates liability for over 60% of customers but will require cognisance of where the valuation office has seen properties with increased NAV Effective Valuation based on their location or business returns”.
Addressing Thursday’s special meeting to approve the budget, Dowling commented, “This is my eighth and indeed the largest budget of my tenure”. He added, “I am confident that this Budget addresses the need of our county moving into 2024”. The impact of retaining the full value of the LPT cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact on service delivery, he stressed. Inflation “continues to be of huge concern,” he advised. “We continue to show foresight by implementing prudent management decisions, it has allowed for savings without compromising on delivery”.
Measures are also in place to support the Ukrainian response, Dowling stated while detailing that 5,226 displaced Ukrainians are now living in Co Clare.
A three-year capital investment programme of €725m has been enabled through the Budget, he said. “Continued capital investment is the cornerstone of our strategic investment as a county. For 25 years leading to 2016, Clare County Council carried a deficit and a loss on its annual account, at the height of this period Clare County Council had AN accumulated loss of 9m, from 2016 to 2022 we returned a balanced situation with a slight surplus, all of the team are determined to keep the finances on an even keel”.
Head of Finance, Noeleen Fitzgerald heralded the full retention of the local property tax in the county, “Clare was receiving about 60% of its collection, 2024 is the first year in nearly ten years that the income will be in our revenue budget, we have retained €11m which adds €3.7m to services”. She acknowledged the expansion of their tourism portfolio was “quite substantial but so is our expenditure on housing”.
On commercial rates, she stated, “less than 2.4% or 96 properties in the county are paying” the higher rates. She advised members that if they were to propose altering the budget they would have to identify where they want to cut funds from. “The actual expenditure is close to €1.6bn, this Council through its spending or what it is proposing to spend is nearly €1.6bn”.
Challenges with housing supply have “significantly influenced” the Budget, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) maintained. He said it was regrettable to see the spend on homeless services having to rise every year.
Transfer of the Shannon Heritage sites “brings its own challenges and values,” Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) observed. “Of the 25 years that I’ve been on the Council, this is the most positive Budget I’ve sat down on, it gives us a real opportunity to support all the things we’ve asked for”.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Cllr Pat Daly (FF), “it is the most progressive budget I’ve seen”. Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) commented, “the ability to reduce ARV by almost 4.5% reminds me of the quote by Gary Player, ‘the harder I work the luckier I get’ and a huge amount of work has gone into this over the last few years. The extra resources are really important but so are good for the staff on the ground”. Six in ten businesses will see a rates rebate, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) observed.
In proposing its adoption, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) remarked, “This is a wonderful budget, I don’t think I’ve seen a more positive budget since I’ve come into the Council”. Retaining the full LPT will lead to higher expectations on services, particularly grass cutting, Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) stated.