From top: LPT logo; Cllr Dermot Lacey
Dermot Lacey writes:
It was extraordinary that in a lengthy article about Local Propery Tax that Fine Gael Deputy Josepha Madigan managed to not even mentions the words “Local Government” once.
Yes, it looks like once again we are having a debate on Property Tax/Council Charge in the absence of virtually any contribution from those who actually work within the local government sector and who try to make a dysfunctional system work at all.
Instead we have had myriad opinion pieces from academics, ill informed commentators, vested interests and frequently the the Far Left and the Nationalist Left who have opposed every single suggestion as to how we should finance our system fairly and with democratic accountability.
Now Deputy Madigan can be added to the list.
Too often the voice of the constructive left has been sidelined and the platform left to the opportunists. Across the world Socialists and Social Democrats advocate payment into a collective fund, toward the provision of collective services.
All across the world, that is, except for the Trendy Left and Nationalist Left in Ireland. Here they simply oppose, protest, march, campaign and instill fear and selfish individualism.
I oppose their agenda just as much as I oppose those who broke this country and brought Ireland to its knees. However we can not just abolish taxes willy nilly because they are unpopular. We must refine and reform.
No Public representative particularly wants to advocate more tax. However, surely this country has had enough of those who promise without cost and who offer Public Services without any reference to payment or appropriate taxation.
The truth is that since the populist and cowardly abolition of Domestic Rates Local Government has been starved of funding. The promise to reimburse Councils for the Rates foregone was never honoured by Government.
I have calculated that since that decision approximately €8 billion has been withheld from Dublin City Council alone by Government. That cannot be sustained.
It is clear that the Property Tax has many flaws I hope that in the period between now and the Local Elections scheduled for 2019 we can use the period to tackle those problems and develop a fairer and more accountable model.
I have proposed before that a Forum on the Financing of Local Government be established. It would be comprised of the main Political Parties, the Social Partners and the Councillor Representative Bodies.
The Forum would be charged, with agreeing a consensus approach on the issue. There would be an opportunity to contribute for the wider public and it would be given a maximum of six months to report.
The Forum could consider either a national and common approach to the funding issue or, as I would prefer, a range of options that could be determined, as appropriate by local elected Councils.
These could include everything from property taxes, a tourist or hotel bed levy, planning enforcement charges, a variable income or sales tax and so on.
Real responsibility will then rest with local Councillors who will also have real flexibility in how to spend the money.
Proposals for reform are still possible in any genuine refinement of the Property Tax legislation. Fine Gael TDs who are vocal on the Plinth and indeed the Opinion Columns might now engage actively in the Parliamentary Party rooms to deliver on some of these:
1) Property Tax raised locally should be retained by the relevant Local Authority in which the money is raised.
2) That price variation in areas be recognized as a reality with appropriate banding. The charge would also reflect the size and value of the property.
3) That an ability to pay clause be an essential element.
4) Central Government must not use LPT income as an excuse the further reduce Local Government income.
5) That Local Councils be continued to vary the nationally set rate by a maximum of 15% but that the consquences of any variation be part of the public documentation on the decision.
6) Provision be made for costs incurred in protecting and upgrading Heritage and Cultural properties that are open to the public.
7) That a penalty would be applied for any deliberate dereliction of property in an attempt to avoid payment. In short that there be no reward for dereliction of property.
8) That real acknowledgement of the enormous sums expended in Stamp Duty during the years 2008 to 1998 be dealt with through a sliding scale of abatement.
9) That given the normal high costs incurred with the purchase of a first house that an abatement sliding from 70% to 20% be applied for the first five years of such purchase in future.
10) That provision be made to integrate waste charges and water charges into the LPT with appropriate reductions for sustainable usage.
Financing is central to any real reform of Local Government and, in my opinion, reform of Local Government must be central to how we reform Ireland. Honesty rather than sloganeering and playing to the gallery must be central to both.
Over the last three years Labour on Dublin City Council has sought to balance the high costs in Dublin with the need for real investment in Public Services.
Incredibly we were consistently opposed by a coalition of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Ultra Left and Sinn Féin in their collective desire to ensure popularity.
It is time we had a long needed honest debate on Local Government Financing. Fairness in taxation and provision of quality needed Public Services are not incompatible but indeed essential.
Dermot Lacey is Leader of the Labour Group on Dublin City Council. Follow Dermot on Twitter: @LaceyDermot