For the second time in a week, the controversial new development levy scheme for all new developments in relation to water and sewerage contributions was passed by a local authority in the county, but only after a number of councillors expressed their opposition to the decision. Last week Ballina Town Council passed a reduced rate levey of €3,500 per housing unit while the council was looking for a €4,500 levey. The levey passed by the county county council according to the managers report on the scheme break down the costs so that for large schemes, the amount of the council’s contribution to the total cost of the scheme will be divided by the number of new houses to be served. While for small scheme’s it will be, the amount of the council’s contribution to the total cost divided by the number of new houses to be served, averaged over five recent small schemes developed by the council.
While the levy was passed the councillors did get some leeway to look at it again. Cllr Patsy O’Brien’s proposal to adopt the scheme with it to be reviewed in not more than 12 months was passed by the 15 members who were still in the chamber at the end of a long meeting day.
The item was proposed for adoption by Fine Gael whip Paddy McGuinness, from a briefing he received from Jarlath Munnelly, the chairman of the SPC for planning and economy, and was seconded by Fianna Fáil whip Pat McHugh.
However the proposal was opposed by Sinn Féin Charlestown based councillor Gerry Murray who told the meeting: “This scheme of development levies is planned to generate a revenue stream for the council for future projects, but with developments being reduced and less levies coming in we are going to become even more reliant on water charges to roll out schemes. We should be lobbying the Minister for a derogation for Mayo, because places like Cork, Dublin, Limerick, and Galway all got their schemes done before the polluter pays principle came in and we are left having to bring in schemes like this to pay our share of capital projects when other places didn’t have to contribute anything.”
Full debate on levy not possible
Fine Gael’s Patsy O’Brien told the meeting: “This should have got a full debate in the council. The merit of the proposal is good, but it’s people in rural villages and who live outside zoned areas that are going to have to pay this levy, people don’t mind paying levies if they get the services they are paying for but a lot of them won’t.”
Cllr O’Brien’s party colleague Seamus Weir also weighed in on the issue calling for the item to be deferred to the next meeting, which was supported by Cllr Murray. However Joe Loftus, director of services for corporate affairs, informed them that it could not be done, because the statutory period for passing or rejecting the scheme would expire before the council could convene another meeting. Mr Loftus also informed the members that these charges had been included by Mayo County Council in planning decisions for a while now, but because this scheme had not been passed the council had seen some €750,000 being returned after people appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála, and that the scheme had been considered twice by the planning and economic SPC before being put before the full council. Senior engineer for Mayo County Council Joe Loftus told the members: “You just approved a loan of €8.8 million for a water services investment programme and we had to work hard to find the money for the Kiltimagh and Achill sewerage schemes. If we don’t have a revenue stream in place the money will soon dry up and there are four or five other schemes we want to see up and running.”
Cost of not passing levy laid out
Director of finance for Mayo County Council Peter Duggan laid out plainly for the council the cost of not passing this scheme. He told the members: “For example the €8.8 million loan you just approved today, it will cost €770,000 per year to service that loan for the 20 years before it’s paid back. If we don’t have an increase in the revenue stream that this proposal would bring we would have to increase the charges on water by 14c per cubic metre and sewerage by 20c per cubic meter, that’s a 34c per cubic meter increase in charges.”
Cllr McGuinness told the meeting: “I’m either going to be brave or foolish, but it’s easy for Cllr Murray to oppose this when he is in opposition in this house, but I’m appealing to my colleagues to support this, we are also looking to the support of Fianna Fáil to put it through.” Cllr McHugh reiterated his party’s support for the issue telling the meeting: “Nobody likes paying taxes, but we have to bite the bullet, there is simply no option, it’s not the happy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do.” The item was resolved by the meeting with the stipulation included that it can be looked at again in no more than 12 months.