Monday 16 December 2019

Increased grant aid means bigger council budget

Myles Buchanan

The members of Wicklow County Council have voted to adopt the draft budget for 2020 which will provide €115,972,871 in expenditure.

The 2019 budget comprises Divisional Income of €70.3 million, Local Property Tax of €13.7 million and rates of €32 million.

The budget was set at a significantly higher level compared to last year, mainly due to increased grant aid for housing services and the roads programme. Regarding housing, Wicklow County Council expenditure for pre-letting repairs provision will increase by €1.1 million, housing and boiler maintenance by €260,000, disabled persons grant by €244,000 and housing of the homeless grants by €150,000. An additional €1.5 million will go toward regional road general improvement works.

In order to stimulate the commercial rates sector and to compliment the introduction of the New Business Rates incentive Scheme, the rate of refund on vacant premises was reduced from 100 per cent to 60 per cent.

Brian Gleeson, Head of Finance at Wicklow County Council, said 14 other local authorities already provide refunds of less than 100 per cent, ranging from 90 per cent down to 100 per cent. The average relief offered by different local authorities nationwide works out at 57 per cent. The reduction is aimed at improving the streetscape in local towns and villages by cutting down on the amount of vacant commercial properties.

The reduction in vacancy relief also provides Wicklow County Council with an additional €780,000 in income to help offset the reduction in the Council's revenue sources for 2020, while also reducing the number of vacant premises.

The 2020 budget also provides for the continuation of the Small Business rates Incentive Scheme. The aim of the scheme is to ease the burden on local ratepayers and address their concerns about the impact of commercial rates. A grant of 5 per cent of the current year bill up to a maximum of €250 will be available in 2020 as a financial support to occupiers of commercial properties with total annual commercial rates bills of up to and including €10,000, subject to certain terms and conditions. Nearly 90 per cent of ratepayers operating in County Wicklow are small and medium businesses who are deemed eligible to apply under this incentive scheme.

Irish Water was valued by the Valuation Office in 2019 and as a consequence will now pay commercial rates directly to local authorities from 2020 onwards. Compensation worth €2.2 million had been received by Wicklow County Council from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which ceases in 2020 as a result of the valuation of Irish Water infrastructure this year. This will result in a rates loss of €600,000. The Council expect to receive €300,000 in compensation, which Chief Executive Frank Curran said he planned to put the compensation back into housing. However, Cllr Joe Behan led the objectors and maintained that how the compensation money would be spent should be a decision for Councillors. It was agreed to share the €300,000 compensation proportionately among the five municipal districts.

At the start of the meeting. Mr Curran also outlined some of the challenges facing the local authority.

'One of our main sources of income, the Local Property Tax, is restricted in that no new builds since 2013 can be added to the LPT allocation.

'The Rates Limitation Order prevents the council from increasing its commercial rates income in the year following the revaluation. We have the loss of income associated with Irish Water. IPB have notified us that they will not be in a position to pay out a commercial dividend in 2020. The special dividend paid out in 2019 was €141,700. However, we received recent notification on our expected insurance premium, in 2020 which projects a reduction of over €200,000 in 2019, which will offset the loss on the dividend,' said Mr Curran.

There was also a significant reduction in Non Principal Private Residence (NPPR) and further reductions due to EU policy changes, including the abolishment of library fees.

Wicklow People