Clare’s local property tax is to increase by fifteen percent following a vote by elected members on Monday evening.
It will be the second hike in the space of four years as a two thirds majority of Clare County Council voted to up the local property tax (LPT) by the maximum fifteen percent. The increase will kick in from next year with households depending on the value of their home paying an additional twenty to sixty cent per week, homes valued at €200,000 and under will contribute less than €1 a week in the tax.
Monday’s meeting was delayed thirty six minutes as Fianna Fáil requested additional time to discuss the implications of the vote.
Councillors, once the meeting reconvened, voted in favour of the increase 16-8 following the encouragement from senior Council officials such as Chief Executive Pat Dowling as it would provide an additional €1.5m in funding, he promised to add to their General Municipal Allocation if the vote was passed. “An organisation that aims to stand still will inevitably go backwards. In order for us to be progressive, we need to find funding sources, we have been successful in drawing down the largest amounts of capital funding this county has ever seen,” Dowling said. “I’m conscious of reinstating the GMA and I’m very keen it’s reallocated. I would plead with you that asking for increases is never easy but the 15% increase we’re proposing represents not an insurmountable amount of money per household per week, 65c per every 10 households per week”.
Independent councillor, Gerry Flynn failed in his bid to find a seconder to his proposal to reduce the local property tax by fifteen percent. “I find it rich that the Chief Executive is requesting us to increase property tax. The public are out there and they’re finding it very hard, families are struggling to put children to school and some are unable to get a home”.
“For the good of the county,” Fine Gael’s Joe Cooney proposed the increase of fifteen percent. He said roadworks included on the list of works as part of the Council’s road work programme were at risk of not being done without the extra funding plus hedge cutting and improved infrastructure would ensue. “It is a very small amount, roughly in the region of 20-30c a week, a small amount. By increasing the property tax it will benefit the county”.
Inagh’s Roisin Garvey of The Green Party seconded the proposal. “Initially I was thinking no way people can’t have more taxes but when I looked into properly I realised all the money is with Central Government and the Council needs the additional money. 20-30c is not a huge amount. People expect a lot from the Council and it’s very hard if you have no money”. She asked the money be ringfenced to cater for struggling families mentioned by Cllr Flynn.
Fianna Fáil’s Pat Hayes admitted the GMA allocation “helped make up our mind” and that the local property tax “has always been a contentious issue”. He told the meeting, “there has been a huge debate in our party over this”. He wished to see a resolution to the €2m being paid out by Clare County Council in property tax earnings to held fund poorer local authorities.
A counter proposal from Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) asked to leave the property tax as is. “Initially it started off at -15% so we’ve already seen a 15% increase. I don’t think the whole budget process is fair and just, I would prefer to see draft of budget first”. His call was seconded by Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), “60c is not a lot but for people but ten years on for the people still struggling from the crash it is,” she added, “€2m has left our county since the LPT started, we’ve had promises from the current Taoiseach that it would return in an equalisation fund but it’s not happening”.
Ennis representative Mark Nestor (FF) referred to the “uncertainty of Brexit” and ongoing financial strain on families for supporting Cllr Lynch. “For a lot of people from where I come from you might as well be talking thousands, we have parents sending kids to bed and to school hungry, it is terrible to see so many kids having to attend a breakfast club in the mornings”. His colleague, Cllr Pat Daly added, “People are burnt out, they cannot pay any more taxes. The Government are putting Clare County Councils and all other County Councils in a corner. It might be only a few cents but it’s another bill and the people of Clare can’t afford it”.
“It is easy for us to say this is a small amount of money, the reality is there is an awful lot of people still living in difficulty. I’m involved in a lot of schools and we see a lot of people being sent to school hungry, they are relying on the school to provide a breakfast. I would like to see what Cllr Flynn has put forward but the reality is if we stay at the status quo there is some bit of leeway, Clare County Council is not benefiting from the LPT leaving our county. We are supporting other counties because the people of Co Clare are forking up the money, doing the right thing and it’s being taken away from them, we need to do the right thing that voted us in,” Cllr Ann Norton commented.
Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) revealed the assurance that the €1.5m was staying in Clare assisted with his decision. “It isn’t Boris Johnson’s decision where the money will go, it is ours, this is our decision to decide where the money will go. Playgrounds, new facilities and hedge cutting doesn’t happen by magic”. Killaloe’s Tony O’Brien said he “reluctantly supported” to help fund future services such as Holy Island and the Killaloe Bypass. Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) echoed Garrihy’s sentiments and stated “We would be seriously irresponsible not to do it” to support future projects.
Citing the €300,000 reduction in this year’s GMA allocation, Cllr PJ Kelly declared, “The people of rural Clare are under hardship. I’m not anti-urban, there traffic issues on the Kilrush Rd, a white elephant being repainted in the Market and there is millions being spent on another street and nothing for rural Clare”. He was challenged by the Chief Executive for his remarks, “I want to dispel the myth being projected,” Dowling said €22m was provided for West Clare under rural development in 2019, €9.5m in capital funding and €12.4m in a support scheme, “the idea that nothing is going back is wrong”. In response, Cllr Kelly stated, “The funding has nothing to do with eastern section of the West Clare MD. If he wants a debate I’ll take him on and he can bring helpers with him if he wants”.
Before a vote was taken, Dowling confirmed €300,000 would be reinstated to the GMA for 2020 with an additional €200,000 to be added if the LPT was increased.
Around the country Kilkenny (15%), Leitrim (15%), Roscommon (15%), Limerick (7.5%), Kildare (7.5%), Cork (5%) and Carlow (5%) also voted to up their LPT with Galway County Council rejecting an increase and Dublin City Council reducing theirs by 15%.
Two thirds of the councillors present voted in favour of the increase including all members of Fine Gael, the Killaloe MD and the four newly candidates elected for the first time in North Clare. Fianna Fáil was split on the issue with their Ennis representatives plus Cllr Kelly and Cathaoirleach Cathal Crowe voting against. Independents were also divided on the matter with PJ Ryan and Michael Begley backing the for side with Ian Lynch, Ann Norton and Gerry Flynn not in favour.
FOR: Mary Howard (FG), Paul Murphy (FG), Joe Cooney (FG), Pat Hayes (FF), Pat Burke (FG), Alan O’Callaghan (FF), Tony O’Brien (FF), Michael Begley (IND), PJ Ryan (IND), Shane Talty (FF), Joe Killeen (FF), Joe Garrihy (FG), Roisin Garvey (GP), Bill Chambers (FF), Gabriel Keating (FG), Cillian Murphy (FF).
AGAINST: Mark Nestor (FF), Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), Ann Norton (IND), Pat Daly (FF), Cathal Crowe (FF), Gerry Flynn (IND) , PJ Kelly (FF), Ian Lynch (IND).
ABSENT: Johnny Flynn (FG), John Crowe (FG), Pat McMahon (FF), Mike McKee (SF)