When I first heard of the prospect of a Local Property Tax (LPT), I thought it would be a windfall tax for the county—where we were going to get lots of money to spend in the district on amenities like parks, playgrounds, and leisure facilities—both indoor and out. In my view, Ashbourne and Ratoath have been left in the background for years regarding investment in these areas. We are a suburb of Dublin, but without the resources or services that goes with that.
In the last few years we (i.e. local community groups and the Ashbourne & District Chamber of Commerce) have managed to establish this area as a strategic location in Meath for economic development. This brings with it the potential to have great shopping, leisure, education, and housing facilities, and for it to become a great place to bring up a family. But we need to build on the progress that has been made.
When the tax was brought in, we were told that councils could keep 80 per cent to run the county council, and would need to give 20 per cent to poorer regions that could not raise the money themselves. This is a fair way to distribute the tax as we need to ensure that no area within the country as a whole becomes disadvantaged. Later on, it became clear that our central government funding was going to be cut by a similar amount to what the LPT was bringing in.
For Meath, the property tax will currently bring in around 18 million euro annually, of which 4 million euro will be redistributed outside this region. By maintaining the property tax at the level it is currently at, it gives us the opportunity to build on some of the economic progress the area has made, and improve the community’s quality of life. By leaving the property tax as is, there is an extra 5 million euro in spending for 2015.
In the national media, however, an impression was given to the public that Meath was able to afford to cut the rate of property tax by 15 per cent, and that simply is not possible. It was wrong for the minister to give that impression as Meath has cut back severely on each and every service it provides. To reduce the tax would have meant living with the status quo; in other words, things would stay the same service-wise, or could get even worse. Regarding costs for Meath County Council, we have the lowest amount of staff per head of population in the country.
Meath was mentioned in the same breath as Fingal, a very wealthy district and an unfair comparison. Louth, Kildare and Wicklow take in more in commercial rates than Meath, and that gave them the ability to give a reduction in those areas. We need a big multinational in the area that will give us a big rate base, such as, for example, Xerox and Coca Cola in Louth or HP and Intel in Kildare.
To give an example, Meath takes in under 33 million euro in commercial rates. In comparison, Louth County Council takes in over 50 million euro, while Kildare County Council takes in over 75 million euro. So you can see very clearly that Meath is at a big disadvantage. We also have a sizeable population at 184,000 men, women and children.
Of the money that we get from the property tax, a large chunk has to go into housing and transport countywide. Meath has a huge road network and in some areas, especially around the Kells district, the roads are in a sorry state and in some cases are impassable. Money must also be spent on properties already owned by the council which need to be upgraded and maintained so that people can continue to live there.
1.5 million euro of the property tax has to go to something called Land Aggregation Schemes, or LAGS. LAGS refers to property that Meath County Council bought in the boom that has lost a significant amount of its value. The council was going to build social housing on it, but that cannot be funded by central government in the current economy and so, currently, it is sitting idle. The interest repayments on these land purchases are 1.5 million euro, and that is paid through the property tax.
This leaves the county with approximately 1.5 million euro that can be invested throughout all 6 new municipal districts. This will also include 300,000 euro for economic development.
Out of the extra budget that the council has from property tax, there is something called ‘discretionary funding’ that allows the local councillors to invest in projects in the local community.
Out of the six county councillors in Ashbourne, I was the only one to vote to keep the property tax as is. Suzanne Jamal (FG) and Sean Smith (FF) were absent from the vote for personal reasons. Joe Bonner (IND) proposed a 3 per cent reduction; Dara O’Rourke (SF) proposed a 15 per cent reduction to the property tax, and Claire O’Driscoll (FF) a 5 per cent reduction.
I was the only one to vote to maintain the current property tax, and that now means in the Ashbourne district that there is some room for investment in the district. This includes necessary grants for housing estates, capital grants, pride of place grants, and grants for festivities and the arts, among other things.
This means that finally there will be an opportunity to put some small investment in projects that add huge value to the community, and it means that the community will see improvements on the ground. It also means that we can further improve the local economy in support of jobs too. I will be working with the Local Enterprise Office as well as being involved in the Strategic Policy Committee on Planning, Economic Development and Enterprise, which meets on October 30th.
I know that things are still very tight for most people, and paying the tax will not be easy. The way this tax is structured is that the larger the home a person owns, the more tax they pay. It is reasonably fair. I’m involved in politics because I want to affect change in the area I grew up in. We need to build a sustainable, functional local service where you, the citizen come first. If we do not see real results within the first year of this tax, I will have no hesitation bringing it down next year. I will also publish results of where, when, and how this money is spent locally throughout the year, because in order to have public buy-in we need to be transparent, to be open, and to take responsibility as councillors for our actions with your money.
I believe it is necessary to invest in the area to improve the lives of the people in the local community, so that in a year’s time we are living in a better place. That’s why I voted to maintain the property tax at the current rate.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.