Dublin City Council votes to increase rates and remove waivers from Dublin's poor

As feared, Dublin City Council(DCC) last night voted to increase rent in social housing, to raise bin charges and to remove waivers on bin charges for poorer tenants. A two per cent reduction in commercial rates was also agreed. (Below, see video of Budget protests and the budget meeting)

At its budget meeting last night, councillors elected to DCC voted to introduce a range of measures which will impact the living standards of many of Dublin's poor. Councillors agreed to increase waste collection standing charges by €5 from €91 to €96 for the 240 litre grey bin, and by €4 from €74 to €78 for the 140 litre grey bin.

While households dependent on social welfare will still benefit from a waiver from these standing charges, all householders will incur the pick-up cost of €6 euro for 240 litre Grey Bin or €3.60 for 140 litre Grey Bin whenever they present the bins for collection. According to DCC, bins are presented once monthly on average. In the face of opposition to these new charges, City Manager John Tierney conceded to providing four free lifts per year to households on the waiver scheme, "provided that their waste collection bills are paid on time".

According to the DCC, the waiver on lift charges was revoked "in order to encourage all households to recycle and to minimise waste". In a protest outside the DCC offices last night, several councillors said that residents will not pay the bin tax. (see video below)

DCC also agreed a two per cent drop in commercial rates, "in recognition of the ongoing challenges facing businesses in the city". Businesses will pay 8 cent more per 1000 litres water. According to the DCC: "To date, charges meet 79 per cent of the costs attributable to non-domestic users. It is proposed that the gap between cost and the charge for water for non-domestic users should be bridged over four years. A litre of water will cost 0.00172 cents."

Although not reported in the DCC press release on budget decisions, it was also agreed to increase rent by €2 per person per week for up to three tenants who are subsidiary earners living in a council house (the main earner in a house is exempt). It is understood that the rates apply to means-tested tenants whose income is above a certain threshold (the threshold is unknown). The measure will increase the annual rent of a council house by up to €312 per year while rents in private sector housing continue to decrease.

In November, property website Daft.ie reported that rents in Dublin "have fallen consistently with an average reduction across all sections of the city of 24.5% from peak and 20.7% from the fourth quarter 2008". It said that "the most acute reductions were in Dublin's City Centre".

The People before Profit Alliance had hoped to persuade Labour councillors to join them in opposing the budget. However, PPA councillor Joan Collins said Labour councillors "were determined to drive [the budget] through". She said that the budget is horrible news to give to pensioners and social welfare recipients immediately before Christmas.

Politico contacted South East Inner City Labour Councillor Kevin Humphreys who confirmed that he had voted in favour of the budget. However he stressed that the increase in the bin charges was an executive function of the City Manager and that himself and others had proposed the retention of the standing order and four free bin collections which had been accepted by the City Manager.  In relation to the increase in rent, Cllr. Humphreys defended the €2 increase (per person) saying that the council does not impose “economical rents”, rents are calculated as a percentage of income and therefore not tied to the wider rental market.

PPA are also critical of City Manager John Tierney who, prior to the budget meeting, signed a managerial order imposing the increase in bin charges and the removal of the waiver. PPA wished to put forward an alternative proposal to removal of the waiver on "lift" charges for refuse collection. PPA proposed that DCC remove the proposals on commercial rates (which will cost DCC €7m) and the abolition of the waiver (€4.7m cost to council tenants), and introduce a €2.3m relief fund be created for small to medium businesses who may claim the two per cent commercial rate reduction. However, according to Joan Collins, the proposals "did not have to be taken on board" because the Managerial Order had already been signed. 

In 2004, legislation was changed to allow Council managers take final decisions on waste. We asked DCC why John Tierney imposed the order. DCC replied: "The setting of the Waste Charge is an Executive Function, i.e. can be set at the City Manager’s discretion. [John Tierney] merely fulfilled that duty. It is not a reserved function of the Elected Members, they merely adopt the budget as a whole, one element of which is the Waste Collection Charge. The Department of the Environment took that function away from the Elected Members some years ago due to their failure to agree on such charges for inclusion in budgets."

Costs to council residents may increase again in 2010. Addressing DCC members last evening, John Tierney said: "We are managing our way through the current economic crisis and have effectively dealt with a €75m reduction in resources in the space of a year. We did this by taking contingency measures to the value of €30m early in 2009. We promised to bring in a balanced budget and we have done that. We intend to do the same in 2010 with a further €45m reduction planned and being managed as part of the Budget”

Video: Protest held prior to budget meeting

Webcast of the DCC Estimates Meeting will be available soon here.

Further decisions approved in the budget:

  • An amount of €2.3M is being provided for grants and contributions in respect of the Arts, Social & Community and Recreation/Development.
  • €25.5m is provided for the operation of the Libraries. An amount of €1.8m is provided for the book fund which is a significant investment.
  • No reduction in services to senior citizen residential complexes, staff working with travellers, housing welfare staff and those working with the most vulnerable.
  • No reduction in numbers of arts officers, community development officers or sports and recreation officers working with and in communities to help deliver and sustain quality community initiatives.
  • 24 hour street cleaning will continue in the city centre.