Friday, 16 July 2021
Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and welcome the Minister of State. I do not envy the Department of Finance, which has been given the task of arranging this system of valuations for new rates. We are eight years on from the original valuation in 2013 and the Minister is correct in moving to regularise the revaluation of properties to a four-year cycle. The timing of this tax was and is very difficult for many people. However, the Government is trying to be fair to all citizens. It has brought in all new property owners who have not been in the loop since 2013 and a large number of estates classified as unfinished whose residents have not been paying the tax. They are being brought into the net. The Government has made significant attempts to ensure that the vast majority of people will not pay more tax as a result of this Bill. That is an important point to note. Only a small number of people will see their property tax increase, although I know this will not go down well with certain individuals.
I have some concerns about the equalisation fund. At present, more than 17,000 properties are registered for the local property tax in my county, Longford, and 79% of them are on the lowest bands of 1 and 2. Under the proposed new bands, more than one third of people in County Longford will get lower bills. While this is welcome news, the consequence is that there will be a shortfall of revenue for the local authorities of somewhere between €800,000 and €1.5 million. We will not know until Revenue comes up with the exact figures later this year. Consequently, we must ensure we match the shortfall some counties, including my own, will experience. Commitments have been given by the Minister for Finance on this to the effect that no county is going to suffer any reduction but I would like the Minister of State to put on record that this will be the case. The Government Deputy in my county has gone on the local media, putting it out there that there is going to be a shortfall in funding because of the legislation we are bringing in. Thus, that needs to be put on the record and clarified. There should not be scaremongering about how we are going to have a shortfall of more than €1 million in property tax revenue. That must be made clear.
When the tax was first introduced, we were told it was intended to improve services and infrastructure in each county. I firmly believe it has done so, particularly in my county. We must communicate to people what this funding is for and what services it actually funds in the counties because people do not realise it. I contradict the comments by the Sinn Féin representative. If one looks at the figures for the tax on houses in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin is in government, they are significant at £1,500 to £1,600. We are looking at putting in minimal charges here to look after our Civil Defence, library services and fire brigade services and provide public lighting in our towns and villages. That is just a small amount of what it does so we need to communicate properly to people that that is what it covers.
In my county, we have worked on this in a cross-party way with Fianna Fáil and Independents. Councils are allowed to increase the tax by 15%. A number of years ago, ours was the first local authority in the country that came to an agreement to increase it by 15%. What we have done with that 15% is pay back a loan for matched funding for infrastructural projects in our county. There was cross-party agreement that every district in the county would benefit from it and they have. We have match-funded our CLÁR, our outdoor recreation infrastructure, our town and village renewal scheme, urban regeneration and development fund, URDF and rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF. In the past three years, we have received three major RRDF and URDF projects of €10 million for Longford, €6 million for Ballymahon and €3 million for Granard. That is what we have done with that money. We have used it to match funds and cover a loan for the costs we have. When we went to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to put forward our case, we had this money in place. We have been supported by the Government in that, which is a positive.Over the last two years, probably 14 to 15 more local authorities have followed suit in what we have done because they have spoken to our head of finance. That is what that funding is for, which is to provide facilities in every single county. We need to communicate that to the people in each county that this is how the money will be spent. I fully support this revaluation and we need to highlight the infrastructure services and projects that are being funded by these moneys.