The decision taken by Westmeath County Council to increase the local property tax rate has merited a sharp rebuke from Athlone Town Mayor, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke.
He made his pertinent objections to the 15 percent rate increase known to his fellow elected representatives and local authority executive during the monthly meeting of Westmeath County Council which was held on Monday afternoon.
With local authority income effected by the persistent Covid-19 pandemic, elected representatives unanimously decided to increase the local property tax rate, a financial burden which will be borne by residential owners in 2021.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser upon the conclusion of the monthly meeting, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke stated that he was “flabbergasted” with the decision to implement a tax increase on every residential property within the county.
“This decision, in essence, runs contrary to the very objectives and economic strategy of our national Government who are presently affording vast sums of money into the economy in an attempt to regenerate growth, reopening business and returning individuals to employment
“Only this past week the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe TD, noted that with Covid-19 cases on the rise there would be no tax increases, no tax hikes, no change to income tax credits or bands, USC or PRSI, while separately, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council called for a ‘substantial multi-year stimulus’ to restore demand in the Irish economy.
“In its pre-budget submission, it warned the outlook for the economy was ‘exceptionally uncertain’ and said the Government should be prepared to provide further targeted stimulus to address the demand shortfall and support supply. Any temptation to increase taxes must be resisted,” Cllr. O’Rourke asserted.
Bearing such an outlook in mind, the Town Mayor reiterated his view that imposing an additional tax payment on each residential property owner within the county was not welcome.
“It is not about the €15 or the .25c per day. This is a tax increase on every household in the county. I am not afraid to make decisions, I have experienced extremely tough budgets from 2009 to 2012 in Athlone Town Council during the worst financial crisis ever to impact our country. In those years we did not lean upon on our constituents to address a local authority financial shortfall and we managed to progress as a Council.
“I am in business and work daily within a business to business environment. I can tell you that with most certainty that businesses within our county are struggling to survive and many will be forced to close their doors before the calendar year concludes resulting in an increase of our unemployment rate. Unfortunately, we are in what will be a prolonged recession.
“We have had a number of meetings with regard to this local property tax issue in recent times and my conviction in this regard remains steadfast particularly in light of the escalation of Covid-19 case figures.
“We have never lived in a time of such uncertainty and I feel that this is the wrong move, the wrong message, the wrong decision at the worst possible time.
“Unfortunately, the majority of Councillors do not share my opinion and while I am very disappointed at that, I do appreciate that this is a democratic process,” Cllr O’Rourke emphasised.
In his address to the elected representatives, Chief Executive, Pat Gallagher, detailed the reasoning behind his recommendation to increase the local property tax rate for 2021.
“The impact of the pandemic on locally generated income has been and continues to be very severe. The reduction of locally generated income for 2021 could be in the region of €1.5m to €2.5m depending on the level of economic recovery which takes place between now and the beginning of the new year.
“Likewise, the impact on the finances of central Government has been unprecedented both in terms of the financial quantum and range. Our objective is to maintain the current level of service in 2021. However, we face an unprecedented challenge in framing a budget which meets this objective.
“If the Council is to maintain the current level of service in 2021, additional funding will be required from central Government.
“It is unclear at this point if additional funding will be made available. If such funding is forthcoming, it is unlikely that the Council will be fully recompensed for the loss in income.
In light of the unprecedented level of uncertainly which the Council face, the impact of the pandemic on rates and other locally generated income, the objective of maintaining the current level of service in 2021 and the requirement to protect core services, my clear recommendation to you is that the basic rate of local property tax be increased by 15 percent for 2021. This increase would generate income of circa €972,000 in 2021 and assist greatly in grappling with this unprecedented challenge,” Mr Gallagher commented.
Local Property Tax Rate Increase Implementation
Residential properties presently valued from €100,000-€150,000 will witness an increase of €33.75 on their €225 per annum charge, affecting 36.5 percent of property owners.
Residences with a value from €150,001-€200,000 are liable to an increase of €47.25 on their €315 per annum charge. This increase will affect 16.6 percent of home owners.
Those who own a residence valued from €200,001-€250,000 will see an increase of €60.75 on their €405 yearly charge, reflecting an impact on 3.5 percent of property owners.
Finally, those who own properties whose value exceed €250,001 will receive an increase of €74.25 on their €495 per annum charge. This increase will impact upon 2.4 percent of householders within the county.