Elevated rates of local property tax will remain in Co Clare next year while calls for the Government to refund the Council’s spend on COVID-19 measures have also been made.
At a special sitting of Clare County Council this week, councillors backed the recommendation of local authority management to maintain higher property tax bills. Last year, councillors voted to increase the property tax by the maximum amount of 15 percent and this rate will be kept following agreement by elected representatives.
Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling declared, “We are facing into an uncertain future regarding our finances and income to the County Council,” as he appealed to councillors to retain the rate decided last year.
Calls to increase the General Municipal Allocation (GMA) were made by councillors as they agreed to Dowling’s recommendation as proposed by Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) and Cllr Pat Hayes (FF). Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) calculated that for every €1 spent on the GMA it brought €3 back into local communities while the Chief Executive said finance officials in the Council estimate the GMA has “a fivefold benefit”.
One representative, Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) sought a reduction in the LPT. “I feel there are a lot of people facing uncertainty, a lot of people are facing mortgage distress. It is not just a couple of cents a week,” the Shannon councillor stated.
There was also worry expressed by Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) over a vote being passed without a guideline on the annual Budget. “We don’t have the budget before us and we’re asked to see something that will have an influence either positive or negative on the budget”.
All money spent by the Council on COVID-19 measures must be refunded by the Government, Cllr Kelly outlined. “That money is going to have an impact on the budget, I don’t want to see a situation where this is retained and that is retained but the following is removed. We can’t have the status quo until the Government refunds what we have paid on COVID. Have we made any noise, are we shouting, have we made any demands? I don’t see why the people of Clare or any part of the county should be deprived because of a Government position”. His request was described as “entirely reasonable” by Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF).
Responding to the views expressed, Dowling clarified that the GMA was part of “the general budgetary progress which we will be engaged with in the coming weeks”. He agreed with the remarks of Cllr Kelly.
Money being taken from the county’s LPT income to fund other counties’ shortfall has to stop, Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF) stressed. “In hard times, the Council ran its books to the letter of the law, we were top of the class and abided by everything we had to, we had a few pound taken off us to support other local authorities that were more flaithulach in the budgetary processes. We’re being punished for it. We need to get that €2m back, if ye do ye can have it in the budgetary process. It needs to be addressed, it is happening since 2013, that is seven years and €14m gone from our property tax to support other local authorities”.
Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG) urged the local authority to borrow money to ensure necessary projects in the county are completed. “I think we should be borrowing €50m, do whatever has to be done and the money will come, do the work and the money will come”. Examination of Council money resting in the savings of banks and credit unions is required, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) felt, he agreed with the views of Cllr O’Callaghan and insisted there was no justification for €2m leaving the county every year.