By Dan Walsh
An overwhelming majority of members voted in favour of an increase of 10% in the Local Property Tax 2022 thus retaining the local variation at the same level when the Local Property Tax Variation report came up for discussion at today’s July meeting of Wexford County Council held with Microsoft Teams in line with Covid-19 guidelines.
Head of Finance, Ms Annette O’Neill told members that the approval sought is 10% local variation factor and it is important to note that this is not an additional 10% it is to retain the charges in the county at the same level as they have been applied since 2018.
Ms O’Neill added that the 10% sought is linked and ring-fenced to the economic and community development programme and if that is not retained it will impact on the progression of that programme.
Cllr Michael Sheehan, who proposed the adoption of the 10% local variation stated that looking at the old plan that the Council adopted the total economic and community plan is €168 million and he stated the importance of local councillors getting as many leverage resources as possible for our communities and our towns.
“The bizarre thing about the Local Property Tax is that it always seems like a 10% increase when it isn’t – you have to go back to zero and start again and increase it by 10%. A 10% increase would generate approximately €1.2 million in the entire year which would equate to 1% of the County Council’s Budget,” said Cllr Sheehan, who said he had no problem supporting the proposal, and he added; “If you look at all the projects we are supporting, they are fantastic projects in terms of infrastructure and economic building blocks for the county and for the future but we also need to start investing in our people, our community facilities and recreational facilities across the county.”
Cllr Ger Carthy said Wexford County Council has an extremely ambitious economic and community plan spanning a few years and is structured to the four corners of the county and he was happy to support Cllr Sheehan’s proposal.
Cllr Joe Sullivan was ‘seriously conflicted’ in relation to the !0%, and while appreciating that the executive were working hard on their economic plan he alleged that in Gorey where there had been promises and undertakings and work had commenced “very little has been actually delivered” – the Town Park is not finished, the Market House is in limbo, Esmonde Street there is an undertaking! St. Waleran’s has been bought and the St. Joseph’s site has cost €0.5 million to get to the point it is at!
Cllr Sullivan read a report that 38 projects had been completed countywide, Gorey-Kilmuckridge is a third of the size of the county and there are five projects in it. “I represent the people of North Wexford and I don’t think the people of North Wexford are getting a good ‘bang for their buck’ in relation to this,” he concluded.
CEO Tom Enright referred to Cllr Sullivan’s comments on Gorey and said that there were a number of other projects completed at significant expense; the Avenue cost €0.75 million, €800,000 was spent on the Gorey Relief Road (with a piece to finish), €2.5 million on Gorey Town Park (which has been delayed because of Covid-19 but is due to open to the public in the next few weeks) and the Hatch Lab project has created well over 300 jobs.
Cllr John O’Rourke agreed with Cllr Sullivan. He was asked on the doorsteps during the last election about the Local Property Tax “where is my money going in County Wexford” and he felt now is the time to let people know “where the money is being spent and what the money is being spent on.” Cllr Cathal Byrne also sought clarity on what projects the money would be spent on.
Cllrs Hynes, Forde, Owens and Ó Súilleabháin were all on the same hymn sheet and doubting ‘value for money’ and queried the 10% increase. Cllr Jim Codd felt that some of the money could be spent on Cocklestrand and make it a ‘pothole free zone’ and Cllr Owens was worried about spending on toilets in Enniscorthy.
Cllr Michael Whelan told the meeting that “to say this money is not being used is not true” and he expressed surprised at Cllr Ó Súilleabháin; “He fought hard and got a Heritage Officer. This must be paid for! We have a Development Officer on the Greenway, we hired an historian for the Decade of Commemorations,” he added.
Cllr George Lawlor announced he will be voting for the proposal because, and he says it every year “this is about ambition for our county. For years Wexford was left on the ‘hind tit’ in relation to investment and development. There may be areas where we can’t build a Trinity Wharf in every district and then we say if we do not have access to resources and money that allows us to leverage funding by this 10% increase… then it will be more than potholes we will be trying to fill.”
Cllr Jim Moore said a previous Council adopted this ambitious programme of investment in our county and he found it extraordinary that the members must come back every year to underwrite and underpin a well thought out development plan for our county and its people. “It is a 5-10 year plan for our county and that was the basis at the time. It looked into the future and I don’t believe cutting tax at this stage is the ambition we need in this county,” concluded Cllr Moore, who questioned ‘what would replace it?’
Chief Executive Officer, Tom Enright said it is about having an ambitious programme for Co. Wexford and helps solve some of the infrastructure deficits that has been holding back this county for far too long and it is about taking the initiative into our own hands and to have the resources available to get things done and to attract matching funds. “We have got grants of €20.5 million for Trinity Wharf that we wouldn’t have got if we didn’t put in the investment at the start to acquire that site, do the planning, and get it ready to attract that level of investment.”
A vote was taken and an overwhelming majority supported the 10% increase variation factor for 2022. Some issues with Broadband coverage led to difficulties during the meeting and therefore the final numbers are uncertain. In reply to a question from Cllr Davy Hynes about the legality of the vote, Cathaoirleach Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy assured the members that everything was above board. The motion was carried by a large majority.