The Wailing Wall: Council Needs To Go Back To One Charge For All Services

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rsz_johnnie_wall_profile_1Johnnie Wall believes Kerry County Council needs to take the power back when it comes to charges for local services… 

WHEN we bought our house back in 1970, the biggest costs we had to bear every year was our mortgage and our rates.

The rates at that time for a single family dwelling was £70 a year or the equivalent of €1,400 now-a-days.

As you can see it was fairly costly. I’m using the price of the pint as a guide to costing, i.e. the pint in 1970 was four shillings or thereabouts. Taking the pint at that price, that works out at 350 pints for your £70.

What I’m saying is, each private house was rated and the rates paid for the local authority services, our town park, refuse collection, footpaths, roads, water.

While you thought it was dear, at least you knew what you were paying for and decisions about what your money was spent on were taken at local level.

Prior to the 1977 general election, the Fianna Fáil manifesto promised to do away with domestic rates and car tax if they were in government.

Who could resist such promises and when they were returned to office, they upheld their pre-election promises and we were all delighted.

I think everyone knew that it was too good to last and in a short period car tax came back first as a ‘car registration fee’ and then road tax returned.

Domestic rates were different in that the money formerly collected through rates, by the council, was to be replaced by a government ‘rate support grant’ paid for out of general taxation.

Over the years that yearly rate support grant to councils got less and less.

The consequence of this was that local authorities were left to come up with ways to make up the shortfall.

Refuse charges came in, small businesses got hit with water meters and had to pay commercial water charges, parking wardens were employed at first to keep traffic moving in our larger towns and subsequently parking charges were introduced as a means of paying them.

Now we are back to paying rates again but under a different name.

I believe the council should now call a spade a spade and say that this is so and revert back to the old system of one charge for everything.

Listening to the national news on Monday night we heard that Waterford County Council had privatised their refuse collection and their wavering scheme for the elderly was scrapped.

This reminded me of our town council doing the same thing some years ago; the private sector were doing it cheaper than the council and customers left the council in their hundreds, which left the council with no choice but to scrap their service as it became too costly to sustain the losses.

Local authorities core business was to provide housing, a safe transportation network for users, water and sewage services, parks, playgrounds, amenity and environmental services, refuse collection, libraries and emergency response services, ultimately, making a town or county a place in which people wanted to live and all at a reasonable cost to its citizens.

If the council went back to providing these services, that is, bring back the refuse collection or make a deal with the private guys to collect it on their behalf and take back the water service, I think that the people would have no problem making one payment a year to cover all these services – call it a local service charge/rates/household charge or whatever.

It would  mean ‘Local Services for Local Money’.

This would also eliminate the need to provide a ‘rate support grant’ to local authorities, from a general central pot of government funds.

This reduction should be earmarked for general tax reduction, putting money back into the pockets of the ‘hard pressed worker’.

With each and every household paying the charge – means tested if required – I feel that that people would engage better to ensure that they got value for money in the services provided, ensuring that the area was someplace nice to live and do business.

With the financial burden shared and a clear identification of the services being provided for that annual rate/household charge, I feel that people would be more amenable to paying.

Local money for local jobs and local services.

One final thought, basing your economics on the price of a pint may not be the wisest financial criteria to use, however it made and still makes sense to the ordinary working ‘Joe Soap’.


The Wailing Wall

• Johnnie Wall is Chairman of Towards A Better Tralee and a former Tralee Town Councillor.

One Comment

  1. Weren’t you a part if the council that privatised our waste collection which has doubled in price in Tralee in ten years. Any comment on that what would ye take back more expenses that’s what joke of an article