Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Mar 1968

Vol. 64 No. 11

Local Government (Buncrana) Bill, 1968: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This short Bill proposes to alter the present statutory basis of assessing the annual rate demand by Donegal County Council on the urban district of Buncrana.

The cost of services carried out by a county council for the whole county, including any urban districts in the county, is apportioned between the county health district and the urban districts by reference to the effective valuation of each area. The share of each urban district is levied by way of an annual demand made by the county council on the district. A general revision of all rateable property in Buncrana was carried out in 1950 at the request of the Urban District Council. As a result the total valuation of the urban district increased from £7,563 at the 1st March, 1950, to £11,445 at the 1st March, 1951. As no request had been made to the Commissioner of Valuation to have the valuations of property in the rest of County Donegal comprehensively revised, the valuation revision in Buncrana resulted in a disproportionate increase in the county demand on that urban district.

The Local Government (Temporary Reduction of Valuation) Acts, 1954 and 1960, contained provisions designed to ease the effect of the valuation revision on Buncrana. The 1954 Act provided that the 1954/55 county demand would be calculated on the estimated valuation of the town in that year if the general revision had not taken place and only normal increases in valuation had occurred since 1951. This notional valuation was then to be increased each year for county demand purposes by a fixed amount of £330 annually over a ten-year period, at the end of which the normal method of calculating the county demand by reference to the actual valuation would apply. In fact, however, the normal annual increase in valuation between 1954 and 1960 fell substantially below the estimates on which the 1954 Act formula had been devised. To meet the resultant situation, the 1960 Act provided that the county demand on Buncrana was to be calculated in respect of the year 1960/61 on the basis of 70 per cent of the net produce of a rate of one penny in the £ in the urban area. This proportion was to increase by 1 per cent of a penny in each subsequent year until, in 1990/91, the county demand would, as elsewhere, fall to be calculated on the net produce of a rate of one penny in the £.

The present Bill provides for the stabilisation of the basis of assessment of the county demand at 70 per cent of the net produce of a rate of 1d in the £ until such time as there is a general revision of the valuation of the rest of County Donegal. The effect will be to reduce Buncrana's share of the cost of the services carried out by the county council on behalf of the entire county, including the urban areas, to what it would have been if a general revision of valuation had not taken place in Buncrana and to maintain an equitable financial relationship in the future between the various contributing areas in the county.

It is proposed that the new arrangements will come into effect in relation to the year beginning on the 1st April, 1968. The statutory period for the estimates meetings of county councils expires at the end of the present month. It is essential, therefore, for legal reasons, that the Bill should be enacted without delay if the revised arrangements are to apply in respect of 1968-69. The Bill has been promoted at the request of the parties most directly affected—Buncrana Urban District Council and Donegal County Council—and because the legislation is necessary to rectify an inequitable situation. On that basis, I commend it to the Seanad.

The Minister can be assured straight away of getting this Bill as far as I am concerned and all Stages of it this evening. However, the Bill highlights a matter to which I have already referred in this House and that is the obsolescence, if not the complete obsoleteness, of the present method of valuation. This Bill highlights it in a very particular way because the law at the present time enacts that there shall be annual valuations of property and every property is valued annually and anybody can in any year—and the notices are going out at the present time—object to a valuation of his property because there is a notional valuation of that property every year. What has happened here, as I understand the Minister's speech, which is a good deal more enlightening, indeed, than anything contained in the Bill, is that Buncrana town was revalued in 1950. If the mechanism for valuing property and carrying out valuations were operated correctly then it did not matter if Buncrana was valued because equally so it is correct to say that all other properties in the county are, according to law, valued in every year and as I have said the mechanism for valuing properties is such that whatever valuation is made in strict accordance with the Valuation Acts is divided by three and that is the way you get the valuation of a particular property at a particular time. It is quite clear that the present system of carrying out valuations is not suitable and this particular Bill indicates that quite clearly. I have little doubt that it would be a great inequity and a great injustice to the ratepayers of Buncrana if they were, because of this revaluation, required to pay more than their share of the county at large charges being made by Donegal County Council. I entirely agree that they should not have to bear more than their proportionate share of local taxation. I suppose it would be irrelevant to say that the whole system of rating both in Buncrana and the rest of Donegal is quite out of date and the idea of imposing rates on the valuation of properties which have to be paid irrespective of the capacity of the ratepayer to pay it is to my mind socially unacceptable in modern times. I could only wish that the Minister, instead of bringing in a Bill confined to relief for Buncrana, was bringing in a Bill that would provide relief for all the ratepayers of the country.

Many people would agree with what Senator O'Quigley has said and it is generally agreed that the present system is not satisfactory but the problem, of course, is what to substitute for it. In this respect an interDepartmental committee has been sitting, has already published two reports, the third report is just ready for publication and the fourth is being prepared. I think that will practically complete their consideration of the matter. The Government have made it clear that they are not committed to the views expressed in these reports that have been published but they are published in order that interested people and interested organisations will submit their comments on them. The intention is that when these are all available the Government will see what can be done to provide a more satisfactory system.

In their first report the interDepartmental committee dealt with the question of valuation for rating purposes and made a number of recommendations on the matter. The committee, in fact, concluded that the position in regard to rateable valuation is unsatisfactory and should be remedied by a general revaluation of all property excluding agricultural lands situated outside the county boroughs and Dún Laoghaire Borough. A summary of this report has been published with a view to evoking suggestions for the improvement of or providing alternatives to the present system. The other two reports of the committee should be available to the public fairly soon and as soon as they have been published and there has been some time to comment on them it is the Government's intention to formulate proposals for any necessary changes in the system of local finance and taxation.

In the meantime I might point out that action is being taken all the time to lessen the burden of ratepayers by increasing State aid to local authorities. A striking feature of local authority finance in recent years has been the huge increase in such State aid which in the current year meets an estimated 52 per cent of local authority revenue expenditure and the proportion of local authority revenue expenditure which is met by rates at present is 32 per cent so that something is being done in the meantime to lessen the burden on ratepayers generally.

I thank the House for the manner in which they received the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill considered in Committee.

Might I say what I have been saying on other sections of Bills like this? I think the Minister would agree, from his experience of local government law, that there are few branches, apart I suppose from taxation laws, that are so difficult to find your way round than local government law. I do not know that it would be possible at any time to do very much to clarify the position by way of codification. What I would suggest to the Minister to bear in mind with a view to not allowing the position to get out of hand entirely is to endeavour, when sections are being amended, to take a whole section and amend it. The Minister will see from section 1 here that the Principal Act means section 10 of the Local Government Act, 1946 which has already been amended in 1954, amended again in 1955 and in 1960. The Local Government (Temporary Reduction of Valuation) Act, 1960 might be an amendment in relation to a figure but those things are becoming more confusing. I would ask the Minister, when those amendments are being made in future legislation, to try as far as possible to amend a whole section at once and not allow reference back to previous statutes and amending them. When people get down to probe one section they have to go back to sections in another Act which has already been amended. If one whole section is completely amended it would be more clear to the Minister, his officials, and the public at large.

This seems desirable. I do not know if there is any difficulty from the drafting point of view but it certainly seems to me to be agreeable.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.