Local Property Tax – An annual debate and the importance of language
It's that time of year again. A Council meeting to vote on the Local Property Tax too place on Monday 10th October 2022. A flawed system in so many ways and with complexity that it makes it so difficult for anyone to understand fully.
Every year Councillors are required to vote on the LPT rate. Every year the meeting is heated and long with lots of debate, conflicting opinions, and lots of playing to the media.
The play on language is the biggest challenge and causes the most difficulties. I’ll try in this update to provide some context to the recent decisions, some facts and explain as best I can what it’s all about. It would be impossible to cover every area of the LPT process and changes over the years but hopefully it will give you some context to how decisions are made and why.
The LPT is charged on all homes that are owned. For individuals and families who rent off the Local Authority, an Approved Housing Body or privately, they are not liable to pay. It is the landlord / homeowner that pays LPT.
One of the flaws of the system is that is doesn’t take into consideration the ability to pay. The larger or more expensive the home, the higher the LPT. There are of course systems in place to allow people to defer paying their LPT if a person cannot afford it, but this just puts of the payment until a later date, it does not remove it altogether.
When considering the LPT it is important to understand not only how it is calculated but also where it goes, something I have been trying to show over the last year when reporting on projects and upgrades throughout the District.
The LPT has to be voted on every year because every year it is returned to what’s called a base rate and a new vote must be taken. This is the biggest challenge.
If the LPT is €100 a year and it is raised by 6% it becomes €106. The next year if it is decided not to increase the charge, and by that, I mean keep it at €106, the Councillors must take a decision to raise it by 6% again. That doesn’t mean it's an additional increase, instead it means that the 6% increase from last year stays.
So how is this described? Some call it an increase, some call is staying the same. How each person views it is very different, but it does make for nice sound bites from certain Councillors who are less interested in all the detail but instead what they can print in the newspaper.
The reality is that an increase, decrease or the LPT staying at the base rate all have implications. Councillors can vote to decrease and increase from the base rate by up to 15%. A decrease by 15% will have significant impact on the service the Council provide and would dramatically reduce services for example libraries, housing maintenance, street cleaning and biodiversity projects. Where some Local Authorities have a large income from commercial rates such as those in Dublin, they can afford to take this hit as their income is made up from commercial rates. Most Counties are not in that position, which includes Wicklow.
In advance of the LPT meeting every year the Council outline their position financially so that Councillors can make an informed decision. This year these included a number of items including the following.
Inflation costs. It is estimated that inflation costs will cost the Council an additional €3.5 million, €1 million of which relates to energy. The Council were somewhat protected from the recent hike in energy costs because of a set contract for all public services, however this contract has now finished and had to be retendered bring with it a 250% increase.
Public Sector wage increase. This pay deal which is to be paid to all public sector staff including nurses, doctors, road sweepers, housing staff, maintenance staff and admin staff will see extra costs. 85% of the costs are being funded by government, the balance must be paid by the council. This cost is €470,000.
There will a decrease in income of approx. €200,000 from NPPR. This is the charged that is being phased out and related to a tax on your non principle private home. It wasn’t just due liable on second homes, but also on homes where you only owed one property but due to personal reasons perhaps lived at your parents' home. In these cases, it was also due. Now that it is being phased out each year the original income from it is reduced.
IPB who provide insurance to the council pay a dividend each year. This year is it being increased from €151,000 to €397,000.
Homes that did not previously pay LPT have now been brought into the system. These are homes built since 2013. At the current rate they would bring in €753,000
All service departments within Wicklow County Council have been instructed that due to the current financial position they cannot increase services or bring in any new service that they are not legally obliged to provide.
In addition to the above it is important to note that in November 2021 there were changes to the LPT bands, some examples of the changes based on the base rate figures are outlined below.
The changes to these bands in 2021 resulted in homes moving to a reduced rate for the 2022 period.
That means a home that was valued at €380,000 in 2020 paid €675 base rate. In 2022 with a 6% variation paid €405 & €24.30 (6%), total cost €429.30. €245.70 less. However last year this was reported by certain Councillors as a 6% increase in the LPT.
This spin is really unhelpful and can cause huge distress to people, especially when we are all struggling and the constant narrative of an INCREASE without really trying to explain what that means causes real concern.
This year the Council asked for support to be able to maintain the existing services to our communities. They sought support to maintain the existing rate at 6%. This would see no increase in the payments made by people in 2022.
Despite challenges that they are facing in providing supports they have committed to no reduction in services and did not seek an increase. By retaining the rate at last years figure the Council have also committed to maintaining the Discretionary fund that is provided to local Districts. This fund is used to carry out work that is determined by the Councillors in that District.
For Bray MD this is a fund of €277,596.
Three proposals were put forward.
Keeping the rate as is – in the above example this means a cost of €429.30 to the homeowner per year, and no reduction in services.
Bring the rate back to the base rate – in the example above this would mean a cost of €405 to the homeowner per year, and no discretionary funding for the district.
Reducing the rate to 15% below the base rate – in the example above this would mean a payment of €380.70 by the homeowner per year, no discretionary funding, and a significant reduction in services.
In the Council each proposal is voted on as it is proposed. As the first proposal was voted and passed on, the other votes were not taken.
I voted to support keeping the rate the same as last year. Maintaining the same rate to ensure that services would not be affected and to ensure that vital projects in the District can be completed.
I hope that the above provides some clarity on the LPT process. I take my role as your Councillor very seriously and try to not only understand fully the impact of decisions I take but also try and give you the facts.
What is probably most frustrating is the ‘spin’ that this process causes every year. Already we have one TD calling out Councillors who voted to maintain much needed services when that TD’s party Councillors put forward no proposal at the meeting. Other Councillors who called for a 15% reduction stating outrage while failing to outline how much money that would actually save people and making no mention of the consequences.
The meeting included a lot of grandstanding and the following language.
‘The Council aren’t struggling; they have plenty of money’
‘Typical Government parties taking from the poor’
‘Three card trick’
No doubt such grand standing will provide lots of coverage in the papers but in the long run what does it actually do for our community. Voting no to everything, regardless of what it is will of course get you lots of press coverage but will do nothing for the community you are elected to serve. Making long statements without actually offering any real alterative will have the same effect. As will calling out constantly about things that are wrong in the community but doing nothing practical to fix them. If you intend to run for the next General election, then all these things will definitely get your name well known which has been proven to have a positive impact on votes.
Our community is why I ran for election. It’s a tougher role than I ever could have imagined but continues to be an absolute honour to have been given. Every decision I take will be measured and will have a balanced approach based on the impact of all stakeholders. It won’t get me lots of press coverage, but it will keep me authentic and true to my beliefs.
If anyone would like any clarity on the above LPT process or meeting or needs assistance in any other area, please do not hesitate to get in touch.