Dublin city councillors have voted to approve a €1.13 billion budget proposed by council managers for 2022, after making several relatively small amendments that they said residents want.
At a special budget meeting on 22 November, councillors voted to divert funds in the budget away from offering rates rebates to owners of vacant commercial premises.
Instead, they allocated more money towards bulky waste collection, creating new “local area plans”, cleaning the city, installing more bins, tackling dereliction, and running more pilot projects on ways to improve the city.
There will be no increase in commercial rates this year, but parking charges are set to rise across the city.
“We are broadly quite happy with the budget,” said Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon at the meeting.
“In a year like this that services are protected, we are not increasing rates on businesses and we are not touching social housing rents,” he said.
But independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly, speaking on behalf of the independent group, said that the council needs to aim higher.
“We are basically celebrating the fact that we are not reducing services and that nothing is being cut,” she said. “We should be … increasing services to citizens.”
Constituents ask her why they can’t get potholes and pavements fixed and where their motor tax and property tax are going, she said.
In the draft budget, Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan writes that “It is notable that in the absence of additional funding from the LPT there is no funding for enhanced/additional services in 2022.”
Every year, Dublin city councillors vote to set the local property tax level, choosing whether to leave it the same, or vary it up or down by 15 percent. For each of the past several years, they have voted to vary it down by the maximum amount.
In July, councillors voted against a motion from the Labour Party, Green Party and Social Democrats to leave the local property tax at its baseline level, which would have brought in more money for services.
Instead, they voted for a motion to vary it downwards again by the maximum amount.
The council’s draft budget for 2022 is €1.13 billion. That’s an increase of €50.4 million on 2021, it says.
The council expects an income in 2022 of €1.13 billion to meet that, up from €1.08 billion in 2021.
About €376 million of that comes from government grants and €367 million from commercial rates, which are charges on commercial properties like shops and offices.
Meanwhile, €329 million comes from “goods and services” (social housing rents, parking fees, and so on) and €23 million from local property tax.
“The increased expenditure is financed primarily by increased grant funding and increased charges for parking and tolls,” writes Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan, in the draft budget.
Central government funds a lot of the council spending but for other things they have to raise the money themselves.
Housing is Dublin City Council’s biggest expense each year, it says. Keegan estimates the council will spend €497.4 million on housing in 2022, up from €486.1 million in 2021.
“This increase relates to services which are largely [central] Government funded such as RAS and HAP,” says the report, using the acronyms for subsidies given to low-income renters to help them meet their housing costs.
“This is reflected in estimated income in 2022 for housing of €420.6m up from €394.7m in 2021,” the report says.
The budget includes €73.8 million for leasing social homes, which is an increase of €27 million compared to 2021’s budget.
Several councillors said that the council shouldn’t be spending so much money on leasing homes that it will never own.
Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan said the council has not increased the rents that it charges its social housing tenants since 1996. “That will have to be addressed in the future.”
Several councillors said that social tenants do pay rent increases, though, because whenever their income increases their rent goes up.
Social housing tenants pay variable rates of rent based on their income.
The highest earner in the house pays 15 per cent of their income to the rent and others living in the house also contribute.
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan said that some of the social housing complexes in the city are in such poor condition that the council couldn’t expect its tenants to pay any more rent anyway.
The next largest line of expenditure after housing is €223.6 million on “environmental services”**, **most of which – about €142 million – is for the operation of Dublin Fire Brigade.
In the draft budget, Keegan, the council’s chief executive, writes that “despite extensive engagement with the HSE”, the level of funding the HSE is providing towards the cost of Dublin Fire Brigade’s ambulance service remains at the 2013 level.
“Two additional ambulances operated by the City Council over the course of the pandemic, and funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as additional Covid related expenditure, will not operate in 2022 as no funding source has been secured,” he writes.
The council plans to spend €126.2 million on road transport and safety, but roads will also bring in additional income this year.
Councillors agreed to increase parking charges by between 10–30 cents per hour, depending on the zone, and to increase the toll for the Tom Clarke Bridge from €1.40 to €1.90 for a car.
The council plans to spend €110.1 million on culture, recreation and amenities, €65 million on water services and €56.5 million on “development management” (including €10.8 million on tourism development and promotion).
Then there’s €49.1 million for “miscellaneous items” (mostly €29 million on administration of rates) and €2.1 million on agriculture, education, health and welfare, according to the draft budget.
The draft budget included some new recruitment, it said. But at a rate “which is likely to be close to the numbers of expected retirements next year”.
Some Small Changes
At the meeting, councillors made some changes to the budget proposed by Keegan, before passing it.
Keegan had proposed that commercial property owners whose properties are vacant, should get a 30 percent discount on their rates.
Councillors voted to slash that refund to 15 percent, freeing up another €2.25 million to be spent elsewhere.
Of that, councillors voted to spend €750,000 to bring back bulky waste collection, following an amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil councillors.
“The public domain crews are inundated collecting waste that is dumped by public bins,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney. “Dublin City Council is picking up the tab for illegal dumping.”
Investing in council collection of bulky waste is “hugely positive and hugely beneficial for the city”, she said.
Labour Party councillors, supported by the Green Party, proposed that the council spend €600,000 to draw up local area plans in each of the five areas in the city.
The Labour Party amendment also called for €400,000 for local roads and public-realm improvements, €350,000 for extra street cleaning and more bins and €50,000 for funding Beta Projects initiatives**, **which trial possible solutions to city challenges.
Councillors agreed to allocate €100,000 to try to tackle dereliction by providing “additional resources for the collection of derelict sites and vacant sites levies”, says the amendment.
“In adding in these additional measures, we are adding in issues that concern the residents,” said Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey. “Local area plans and cleaning our city, those are the key things people say they want us to do.”
Fifty-two councillors voted in favour of adopting the amendment and budget. Six Fine Gael councillors voted against, and two People Before Profit councillors abstained.