Confirmation from central government that local authority housing is not exempt from property tax means Offaly County Council must find just over €200,000 to cover the cost for this year and next, the Offaly Independent has learned.
The news was revealed to councillors last Monday by Offaly county manager Pat Gallagher, who told those gathered that liability extends to just over 1,500 local authority houses in the county.
It’s likely those hit with the charges will be local authority tenants, with councillors last Monday emphasising how little wiggle room there is left for cuts to cover the cost elsewhere in the budget.
Independent councillor John Leahy suggested at last Monday’s meeting that asking the council to cough up the cash was like asking for “blood from a stone”, while councillor John Carroll said getting the council to pay property tax for local authority housing only to get it back as part of its local government fund allocation made no sense.
The council has advised central government it will need assistance to meet its liability, and councillors on Monday agreed to write to the department suggesting that the cost could be bourne through the differential rent scheme.
In Offaly this would mean adding a €45 charge to each of the approximate 1,500 houses liable for the tax.
Spreading out that cost to something in the region of €1 a week per household was suggested.
Fianna Fail's Sinead Dooley said that the council must remember it has a duty to its tenants, but also all other members of the community.
Fine Gael’s Tommy McKeigue and Connie Hanniffy agreed the cost of the tax should be bourne by the housing sector.
“It is a housing cost and therefore I think we have to keep it within the housing regime,” Cllr Hanniffy said, adding that the payment cannot be put on the long finger.
“We have to make a rational decision and carry it through,” she said.
Fianna Fail’s Danny Owens described the liability as “another nail in the coffin” when it comes to agreeing a budget for the county, while Independent councillor Johnny Butterfield said the council has to “assert” itself.
County manager Pat Gallagher said Offaly County Council is engaging with the department and will update councillors on progress in the matter.
He said the council is also looking to see if any funds kept from the council due to low household charge registration figures could be awarded now that compliance has risen.