Thursday, 11 October 2018
Financial Resolutions 2019 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for sharing his time to allow me to contribute on budget 2019 with regard to local government. A significant increase of €60 million, from €125 million to €185 million, in direct support by the Government has been provided for in the budget for 2019. As with most other Departments, much of the expenditure relates to pay and pension matters. It is also worth pointing out that the direct contribution of the Exchequer to local government is but a small part of the overall fund. In 2017, the last year for which full figures are available, €477 million was collected through the local property tax. All of this money is spent in local authorities around the country annually. Commercial rates collection in 2017 amounted to €1.34 billion and development levies from that year totalled €212 million.
All of those figures will increase, some of them substantially, in 2019.
This means that in excess of €2 billion will be expended by each of the 31 local authorities across the country under various headings in terms of their functions and the services they provide. One of the key announcements in terms of funding provided in the budget for the local government sector is the €12.4 million in 2019 for fire and emergency services, which is an increase of almost €2 million on last year's allocation following on from the reports conducted and in train in regard to the fire safety measures that are necessary and currently available and that should be available into the future in our local authority housing stock and public and private buildings across the country.
In the coming weeks, a local government reform Bill will published. This Bill will focus primarily on the expansion of Cork city and the amalgamation of Galway City Council and Galway County Council. The budget makes provision for increased funding to ensure these measures can be executed. There will also be plebiscites in May 2019 in three local authority areas - Limerick city and county, Waterford city and county and Cork city - in regard to directly elected mayors. This involves a rebalancing of the functions and roles of the executives of local authorities and the directly elected member, which will lead to executive powers at local government level in Ireland being exercised, for the first time, by a person directly elected by the people, provided the people vote for this in the plebiscites.
A key measure also included in budget 2019 is the re-establishment of a fund for estates to be taken in charge. In 2013 or 2014, provision was made for a one-off €10 million fund for local authorities, available on application by them, to enable them to complete estates that were almost finished. I refer in this regard not to ghost estates but to estates where footpaths, street lighting, street surfaces or wastewater facilities had not been completed. Many local authorities have continued this work from their our own resources. I welcome that once again there will be support available from central Government for the taking in charge process for the many hundreds of estates built across the State during the Celtic tiger, most of which remain in private hands and not under the control of the local authorities.
There are several housing initiatives included in budget 2019. One of those initiatives, the serviced sites fund, will have a fundamental impact at local authority level. The local authority will take an equity stake with the buyer, to be repaid over time or when the house is sold, and the applicants will be selected openly and transparently by each of the local authorities providing the homes. While in many parts of the country housing land stocks are low, many local authorities have suitable housing lands, often located in smaller towns and villages around their areas. This serviced sites fund will be targeted specifically at those areas. When the purchasers of these houses have made their repayments and bought-out the house, this money will be retained in a separate fund by the local authorities and will provide a rolling fund for affordable housing into the future.
Another measure that will commence in January 2019 but of itself is not a revenue generation measure but will generate some revenue for local authorities is the vacant site levy. It came into effect this year but the collection period only commences on 1 January 2019. As mentioned by other members, this has led to an increase in the number of planning applications being lodged to build much needed residential accommodation in each local authority area across the country. It will also provide limited additional funding for local authorities into the future.
The budget also makes provision for an increase in the funding for housing adaptation grants to €57 million. This will enable up to 12,000 home adaptations to take place. These are vital grants administered by local government, often for the most vulnerable living in the most isolated parts of our communities. The increase in this allocation by central Government is welcome. Also, €13 million in funding is ringfenced for specific Traveller accommodation schemes, including the provision of additional group housing measures and €32 million is provided for the remediation of a further 460 houses affected by pyrite. There was also an announcement of a similar scheme for mica-affected homes, particularly in the north west of the country.
I welcome the announcement this morning by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, of pilot schemes to encourage more people to live in some of our provincial towns. Six towns are selected, one of which I am delighted to say is Callan in Kilkenny. It is hoped that new and refurbished accommodation will bring people to live in the centres of some of our market towns that have suffered so much over the last ten or 12 years.