Galway City Council is facing a €189,000 property tax bill on its social housing stock, the local authority has confirmed.
City Manager Joe O’Neill told councillors at Monday’s annual budget meeting of Galway City Council that he had received word from the Government that the council would have to pay the sum in the coming year, but that further clarification was not available.
This led to consternation in the chamber, as councillors questioned whether the charge could be passed on to the householder or recouped from the Department of Local Government.
While Mr O’Neill and Finance Director Edel McCormack advised that it would be “prudent” to provide for the charge in the annual budget, councillors rejected the request and subsequently passed a motion that a message should be sent to the Government “condemning the imposition” of the tax on embattled local authorities.
The news came as the council prepared to publish its most difficult budget yet, with Mr O’Neill conceding that balancing the books was “very challenging” and “the task of continuing to provide the same level of services with reducing resources is very difficult”.
While councillors were presented with a draft budget prepared by the Finance Department, there were some major changes discussed on Monday night, as the Labour councillors battled with the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael pact over several issues.
Speaking on behalf of Labour, Cllr Collette Connolly argued that a proposed increase in charges for the collection brown composting bins would punish those who recycled, and put forward an alternative budget in which the increase would be abolished and added funding would be provided to several arts and sports groups in the city.
The monies for this would be provided through an €359,409 increase in expected local government funding and €10,000 from a revised valuation of rates, as well as savings of €100,000 on insurance policies.
However, the FF/FG pact subsequently tabled an alternative to Labour’s plan, proposing an additional €25,000 be given towards arts grants, €10,000 to the Civic Trust, €10,000 to Gaillimh le Gaeilge, €17,909 towards sports grants, €10,000 to Bádóirí an Cladaig and €6,500 towards the FAI Football in the Community Programme.
It also sought to create a fund of €175,000 for promotion and marketing of city events, which would be open to public applications, and a €150,000 local area improvement scheme, which would allow councillors to get minor works done in communities throughout the year.
It additionally provided €75,000 for replacement heating systems in Renmore and Westside and a €40,000 contribution to the waste management plan, as requested by city officials earlier in the meeting.
The money for this would be found from the local government funding, revaluation of rates, insurance policy savings and the removal of an annual €50,000 grant to Fáilte Ireland, as it was argued that the agency should come and request the funding from the council if suitable projects arose.
The measures forward by the pact were subsequently passed by a majority vote of nine to six and incorporated into the 2013 Budget.