Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Wicklow Councillors are being blackmailed by the Government not to cut the Local Property Tax by 15%

Wicklow Sinn Féin County Councillor and General Election candidate John Brady has labelled the Local Property Tax as undemocratic and a Government tool being used to further starve local authorities of critical core funding which is needed to carry out essential functions. Wicklow County Council is to meet on Monday 28th September to set the Local Property Tax Rate for 2016. Under the legislation Local Authorities may vary the basic rate of the Local Property Tax within its own area by a maximum of 15%.

Speaking ahead of the council meeting Councillor Brady said “Wicklow County Council will meet on Monday 28th September to set the Property Tax rate for 2016. However figures that have been produced show that the level of funding available to the council will be substantially down on previous years and that the General Purpose Grant from the government of €6.8m is far too low and is not sufficient to cover the council’s core services. As a result council officials are being left having to rely on the 15% discretionary funding in the LPT to try fund core services”.

Cllr Brady continued “In the coming year the council will need and extra €1.6m just to maintain its current level of services. Already officials are asking councillors not to reduce the LPT by the 15% as it’s needed to maintain services. Sinn Féin have opposed the Property Tax from the outset, we have said that if we receive a mandate after the next election to form a new government we will abolish the unfair tax. Under the legislation Local Authorities may vary the basic rate of the Local Property Tax within its own area by a maximum of 15%. This means that Wicklow County Council can either increase or decrease the rate of the Local Property Tax in Co Wicklow in 2016 by 15% of the 2014 rate. Prior to the local elections Wicklow Sinn Féin committed to reducing the tax by the full 15% allowed”.

Councillor Brady further explains where the funding problem is “The main problem is the gross under funding of Wicklow County Council by the Government. Wicklow only receives €6.8m government funding from the General Purpose Grant. This is in contrast to the €17.5m received by Mayo in 2015 or the €22.7m Donegal got, not only are we the poor relations here, we also have to hand over 20% of all Property Tax money collected in Wicklow to an equalisation fund to help other counties. At a council meeting this week I proposed that the 5 Wicklow TDs be contacted and asked to attend a meeting with the councillors to discuss the under funding of the council and to make the case for Wicklow at a national level, for additional government funding from the General Purpose Grant. The populations of Wicklow and Mayo are similar, however there’s a massive difference is government funding levels. We have 3 Government TDs in Wicklow, why are they so silent on the under funding of Wicklow? And why aren’t they making a business case for Wicklow to have the grant increased?”

Brady was critical of the lack of consultation with the public in setting the rate for 2016; he called the process totally undemocratic “The Property Tax legislation provides for public consultation in setting the annual rate for the LPT. Unfortunately the council merely carried out a box ticking exercise by sticking an ad in the back of one of the local papers at the height of the summer holidays. Unsurprisingly the council only received two submissions, 1 in favour of cutting the rate by 15% and 1 looking to retain it without any reductions. Public representatives weren’t even informed that the consultation process was being held. I believe the failure to carry out a meaningful consultation process is fundamentally undemocratic, carried out by senior council officials who don’t want the public demanding the full 15% reduction”.

The Sinn Féin Councillor concluded “The people of Wicklow and across the state have been sold a pup with the Property Tax; they were promised properly funded local authorities with beautiful parks, playgrounds and many, many other greatly enhanced services due to the additional taxes going to fund them. Unfortunately what we have here in Wicklow is a council struggling to balance its books, and a council that is trying to force the hand of its councillors into not reducing the LPT by 15% because it needs it to pay for core services. I for one will not be blackmailed; I gave a commitment to the electorate to cut the LPT by the full 15%. If there is a cut to core services it’s because of the governments under funding of Wicklow County Council and not a decision to cut discretionary funding in an attempt to put some money back into the pockets of hard hit families that have been squeezed by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil over the last 8 years”.

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