Councillor Paul Bell leaving County Hall, Dundalk after this morning's meeting.
The elected members of Louth County Council met this morning and firmly rejected any increase to the Local Property Tax (LPT) for 2020 despite severe financial problems facing the local authority.
County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin had asked the Councillors to approve an increase of 15% which is the maximum allowed by law but this was rejected. Ms Martin said that she needed the 15% increase to deal with the financial difficulties facing the Council.
“I’m operating on the same budget as I was when I became Chief Executive five years ago but costs are increasing all the time so something has to give” she warned Councillors.
“It’s your decision but if I don’t get the funds I need I will still need to make a budget. I will deal with what you give me but if I don’t get the increase it will mean further cuts to services.”
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Drogheda Labour Councillor Pio Smith proposed raising the LPT by 10%. “We all want to make improvements, how can we do that without funding?” he asked.
“Some Councillors won’t vote for an increase because they’re opposed to LPT” he said, “but others won’t vote for it because they fear being unpopular.”
Seconding Pio Smith’s proposal, Councillor Paul Bell said that people could sit on their hands but eventually they would have to deal with the challenges facing the Council.
“I support the 10% rise but I want some jurisdiction over how that money is spent” he said. He pointed to the 80 or more houses in County Louth that need money spent on them to bring them to a habitable condition but there is no money to refurbish them.
He said he was “sick and tired” of having to tell people who were looking for repairs to their homes that there was no money. I don’t want to raise anyone’s taxes but we have needs and they have to be paid for.”
Councillor Joanna Byrne, also of Sinn Féin, said that in 2018 the housing maintenance budget was €5.6m but, by June of 2018, this had all been spent.
“The allocation for 2019 was €5.2 million, this was less money to cover the year, as well as the overrun from 2018. Sinn Fein opposed this at the time of as there was no logic to it.”
“For the first time ever Sinn Fein did not propose a decrease of 15% as we usually do, as we recognise this is a time of tight finances for the County” Cllr. Byrne told Drogheda Life later.
“However, housing maintenance is not the reason the LPT was designed and we shouldn't be held over a barrel to increase taxes on families to bail out government underfunding.
“There's an onus on LCC to manage our own finances, perhaps more efficiently, but this should not fall at the feet of the general Joe Soaps when there was no forward planning from the executive to provide sufficient budgeting for such a crisis.”
Speaking after the meeting a very disappointed Councillor Paul Bell told Drogheda Life that the increase would have cost the average household between 48 and 60 cent per week but would have helped deal with the ongoing housing crisis.
“We had an opportunity as a Municipal District Council in Drogheda as part of the LPT proposal to have a budget of €200,000 per annum" he said. “We could have done so much with that. I’m very disappointed for the people of Drogheda that they have missed out for the second time on generating money for our own community.
“I believe the local authority system is damaged when we don’t exercise these powers in a positive manner, it’s disappointing but nevertheless I respect the decision of Council.”
The Council had to vote on three proposals on LPT. The first, from Cllr. Colm Markey that there be another meeting to discuss the issue further, was defeated by 18 votes to 9.
The second proposal, by Dunleer independent Councillor Hugh Conlon and seconded by Cllr Maeve Yore, was for a zero per cent increase in LPT and was supported by all but seven of the Councillors so it was carried. It also made the third proposal, from Pio Smith and Paul Bell, for a 10% increase redundant.