Council chiefs add backing to property and water charges
COUNCIL bosses have backed Government plans to hit more than one million homeowners with new property taxes and water charges.
A raft of levies and taxes are to be introduced to reduce the deficit in Government and local authority finances.
The Commission on Taxation is proposing that 34 cash-strapped city and county councils introduce the charges to reduce their collective debts of almost €5bn.
Cash needs to be raised for vital services such as water and waste water schemes, waste disposal and housing.
County and City Managers Association (CCMA) Chairman Eddie Sheehy last night said people had become prone to taking free services for granted.
He insisted only locally-sourced revenue could help sort out the councils' finances.
"Water charges and local property taxes are a feature of life in every developed country in the world. Ireland is unique in not charging for water," Mr Sheehy told the Irish Independent.
He said councils are facing a dire financial outlook as their funding from Government was cut this year -- along with cuts in funding of up to 25pc for non-national roads.
Council income from planning application fees, development levies and landfill fees has plummeted nationwide.
And many local authorities are experiencing difficulty collecting water charges from businesses that are struggling or have shut down.
Any moves to introduce water charges or property taxes will be met by a nationwide boycott and protest, the Government was warned last night.
The Socialist Party, led by MEP Joe Higgins, vowed to fight any charges on the ground and through the courts.
In message to the Government, the party said it would lead a boycott of water charges and property taxes not witnessed since 14,000 people signed up to the successful anti-water charges campaign in Dublin in the mid-1990s.
The 34 local authorities are now €400m short to complete vital projects and have been told by Environment Minister John Gormley not to borrow.
The majority of council's have ended temporary contracts, slashed overtime and are not replacing positions made vacant through retirements.
A number of councils are also looking at putting staff on a three-day week to cut costs.
Staff numbers at councils have been reduced by 1800 since cutbacks began last year and a further 700 people will have lost their jobs by 2010.
By the end of last March, the number of people employed in councils was 150 less than the total figure in 2002.
The introduction of water charges and property and carbon taxes, on the back of cuts proposed by An Bord Snip Nua, are likely to prove politically explosive.
Government ministers are reviewing the contents of the Bord Snip report and will report back to Cabinet in September, while the Commission on Taxation report will be presented to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in the coming weeks.