Councillors have agreed not to increase the Local Property Tax (LPT) this year ahead of the budget meetings in November – despite a projected €1.25 million shortfall for Galway Council Council.
Councillors can vote to vary the basic rate of the Local Property Tax up or down by 15 per cent and have to take the decision by the end of September so it can come into effect by November 1. The maximum value of an increase or decrease would be €2.2m.
The LPT collected for next year would be an estimated €14.7m, of which €11.7m would be retained by the Council with the remainder going into an equalisation fund benefiting other councils with smaller populations.
The estimated expenditure for 2020 will be €7.6m more than this year. That includes a €5m hike in the roads budget, €1.4m extra for staff costs and €300,000 more for homeless services. Other increased areas for expenditure are €200,000 for housing maintenance and €200,000 for local roads.
Chief Executive of Galway County Kevin Kelly warned that despite a projected increase in income of €6.4m – €5m of that from higher roads grants from the department – that still left a shortfall of €1.25m.
This would have to be met through increased LPT and/or commercial rates – or by reducing expenditure.
A 15 per cent hike in the LPT would mean an increased bill of €13.50 for 36 per cent of households, €34 jump for 32 per cent and €47 extra for 22 per cent of homes per year.
A five per cent adjustment would mean an additional cost of less than 30 cents per week for 90 per cent of households in County Galway while giving €725,000 to the Council – “very significant in terms of service delivery”.
“Galway County Council had a budget of €160m in 2008. The Council’s budget reduced to €105m in the period 2015-2017 before increasing to €112m in 2018 and €120m in 2019,” Mr Kelly stated in a submission to councillors.
“The members will be aware that we do not compare favourably with relevant comparable counties which are those with a large geographical area and a significant rural population.
“In comparison with such counties, Galway has the highest population, lowest staff level, lowest budget per capita and the lowest commercial rates income of these comparable counties.”
Martina Kinane (FF) said the answer to bridging the gap was not by increasing LPT and she proposed that the rate would remain the same next year, which was seconded by Cllr Joe Byrne (FG).
“Since 2015 we have 5,000 houses newly built in the last 6-7 years and they don’t pay property tax – that €225 per year would net Galway County Council €1.4m which is actually the difference to balance the budget,” stated Cllr Byrne.
Cllr Mary Hoade (FF) urged Fine Gael councillors to seek a meeting with the Finance Minister to lobby for more money to address the serious underfunding in this local authority.
Cllr Michael Connolly (FF) seconded this, pointing out that Galway County Council was getting €2.8-3m in the equalisation fund while Mayo was getting €13m, Tipperary €19, and Donegal €21m.”
The motion not to increase the LPT was agreed unanimously.
Galway App company Booniverse plans pivotal communication role during COVID-19 emergency
The Booniverse Town App (Xplore, Galway App) is a free to download app created with the initial concept of imparting information on local attractions, events, shopping, accommodation, hikes and trails, cultural and historical information as well as tourist information.
With the arrival of Covid-19, Booniverse has been working in collaboration with The Wild Geese, an East Galway Task Force, co-founded by Deputy Anne Rabbitte, TD for East Galway and Elodie Golden, an experienced digital project manager, to expand the app as a trusted digital tool for communication during the crisis.
According to Deputy Rabbitte: “Our mission was simple, to solve the challenges faced by our rural towns, villages, and communities who were on their knees, from town to town, village to village, community to community.
The Wild Geese community team consists of seasoned leaders and volunteers with a fervent and passionate interest in the renewal of the main towns and villages of East Galway. They have been working very closely with Booniverse Limited over the past 18 months with a view to creating a digital infrastructure for the towns of East Galway, onboarding the towns, villages and communities onto this unique digital ecosystem conceived, created and nurtured by the Galway-based Booniverse Limited.
Elodie Golden said: “Since the COVID-19 crisis began, it quickly became apparent to me that a robust digital infrastructure built over 9 years, on battle-tested technologies and frameworks, could play a pivotal role as an important trusted digital tool for communication during the crisis.”
Deputy Anne Rabbitte said: “I quickly realised the benefits of adopting the town and community app to the Public Health Emergency making it easier for government agencies and locals to communicate swiftly, securely and with tailored messages to our towns, villages and communities”.
Deputy Rabbitte continued: “In particular, the opportunity was there for state bodies such as the Irish Government, HSE, Garda Siochana, County Council to have secure access to the dashboard, to send tailored push notifications to all or to a selected number of locations on behalf of stakeholders”.
“On the community level, access would be available for communities to publish local content, create and share timely, accurate informative updates to volunteer initiatives, news articles, list essential business listings, volunteer services open in the community featuring turn by turn navigation and one-touch call and email”
Deputy Rabbitte concluded “I envisage the roll-out of the community app in two phases. Phase 1: Covid-19 Emergency and Phase 2: Covid-19 Recovery when all of the retail, hike and trails, tourism features are turned back on and businesses are supported digitally in getting back on their feet. The app is ready to scale with an experienced digital team behind it, to drive it forward and support our communities in and agile and expeditious manner.”
Talks are currently at advanced stages to roll out the platform to every county in Ireland and moving the Galway App to Xplore which will allow users, regardless of where they are, to download the one app and from there, users simply enable location services or select a region to stay local. The Xplore app is also available currently for a number of Munster towns having been rolled out in conjunction with McCarthy Insurance Group and local Credit Unions.
New York-based Galwegian thrives in heart of virus epi-centre
An aspiring entrepreneur and Galway native, who had just set up a digital marketing company in New York when the pandemic struck, continues to work twelve-hour days as companies scramble to stay afloat.
Tadhg Reynolds, 24, from Kinvara, left for a better life exactly a year ago, on graduating from NUIG with a degree in Business Information Systems.
On his arrival, he joined a digital marketing start-up in Manhattan focused on e-commerce before branching out on his own, concentrating on Facebook ads, email and Instagram posts for companies in the US as well as in Ireland.
And then Covid-19 sent shockwaves around the world.
America is now the epi-centre of the pandemic and New York has been hardest hit, with 12,000 new cases confirmed and 600 deaths recorded on the day Tadhg spoke to the Connacht Tribune.
Tadhg had been worried that his newly found business would fall by the wayside as digital marketing is usually the first thing cut in hard times.
“I’ve actually started taking on new clients – companies selling home exercise equipment, hand sanitisers, hand moisturisers are doing really well so I’m helping them capitalise and everything seems to be going ok,” he remarks.
See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also order the paper with your online delivery – or buy a digital edition on www.connachttribune.ie
Hospitals plan for anticipated virus upsurge
Extra space to store dead bodies prior to burials and cremations has been added at University Hospital Galway (UHG).
Upgrade works at the mortuary had already started prior to the Covid-19 crisis but additional capacity for potential coronavirus deaths was added as a worst case scenario precaution.
‘Preliminary talks’ about the possibility of opening a temporary field hospital in Galway, if in the worst-case scenario the four city hospitals fill-up, have also taken place as part of the HSE’s wide-ranging pandemic plans.
The capacity planning comes as Dr Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director of Saolta Hospitals Group this week warned we are ‘far from over the hump’ in relation to Covid-19 infections and deaths, even though the public’s compliance with social distancing has slowed the spread of the virus.
The latest figures confirm there were a total of 128 positive cases of Covid-19 in Galway, as of midnight on Sunday, compared with 86 the previous Sunday. That’s up 42 cases in a week, but Sunday’s sharp rise of 16 new cases accounted for almost 40%.
Several hospital sources confirmed that temporary refrigerated prefabricated buildings have been installed alongside the morgue. These have increased by many multiples the 15 spaces in the existing, permanent morgue. An autopsy theatre at the morgue has been moved temporarily to the Fever Hospital building at UHG.
Members of the public who contacted the Connacht Tribune had noticed building work at the city morgue at UHG.
Dr Nash said some construction work was progressing beside the morgue on a new laboratory building that will accommodate the blood and tissue establishment unit. That unit was previously granted planning permission as part of an extension to the morgue.
See full story – and a further 20 pages of coverage of the Covid-19 crisis – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also order the paper with your online delivery – or buy a digital edition on www.connachttribune.ie