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County to decide on Local Property Tax next week

Denise McNamara



A decision by Galway County Councillors on whether or not to vary the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate has been deferred until after a meeting with various Ministers about the possibility of securing additional funding for the local authority.

Councillors have until September 30 to vary the basic rate of the LPT up or down by 15%.

The Department of the Environment has indicated that the total LPT expected to be received by the Council is €14.5m – of which €11.6m will be retained locally. The value of a full 15% increase or reduction would be €2.18m.

Income for 2017 is forecast to be €500,000 lower than in 2016. Current estimates of expenditure for 2017 is put at €107.1m, an increase of €2.2m over the 2016 budget, which includes additional payroll costs arising from national pay agreements, additional costs due to a reduced head count being funded by Irish Water and an increase in the provision for vacant rate properties.

“The overall budgetary position shows that changes such as reduced income, increasing costs and areas of activity, and the need to make further provision for vacant commercial property means that there is a clear requirement for increase income as in the alternative services will be reduced through significant expenditure reductios in order to achieve a balanced budget,” according to a report circulated to councillors in advance of this month’s meeting.

“The cumulative deficit to the end of June 2016 stands at €1.8m. This deficit will most probably increase in size from mid-year arising from among other things, a requirement for an increased provision for vacant or uncollectable rates. The local government auditor has again highlighted the importance of addressing the deficit which is particular challenging in the current economic climate.”

A 1% variation in the base LPT rate would result in an increase of 90c per year for one third of properties; €2.25 for another third valued up to €150,000 and €3.15 for a quarter of properties.

A jump of the full 15% would add €47.25 a year for households.

Not one submission was received by the Council when it sought public feedback on a variation to the LPT.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Hoade said before a decision would be made by the chamber, the majority had agreed to seek meetings with a number of ministers to see if it was possible to secure more central funding to address the serious shortfall in Council coffers.

They planned to meet with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney, Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources Sean Kyne and Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief Sean Canney.

A special meeting to debate the issue has been set for next Monday.


Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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