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Councils 'can borrow the money' to pay for scrub clearance

forrestThe forest maintenance row continues between the country’s mayors and the government. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, has assured municipalities that they will be reimbursed for ‘almost everything’ they spend cleaning forests on private land.
 
The new forest laws state that land must be cleared in the zones around villages and houses in rural areas, before the next fire season.
 
"The first responsibility lies with the owners," said Eduardo Cabrita, who admits that not all land can be cleared in year one, despite this being part of the government’s regulations.
 
"I would say that this is an area of work that Portuguese society demands of us. The memory of last year’s 112 dead requires us to do everything, everything which is possible and at the moment much more is being done,” says the minister of Internal Administration.
 
The row is about who pays for this work. Councils are to clear private land, under the new laws, and get the costs reimbursed by the owners, if they can find them.
 
There are new deadlines and penalties if councils fail to ensure the cleaning of the areas around houses, factories and urbanisations.
 
The national association of municipalities already has stated that it considers the May 31st deadline "unenforceable" and several municipalities have stated that they do not have the funds or equipment to carry out the task.
 
At the centre of the discussion lies a provision that has been law since 2006, but has been beefed up in reaction to last summer’s devastating fires and loss of life.
 
In the new 2018 law, if owners of land surrounding isolated houses, villages and factories etc do not clear scrub to 50 or 100 metres, varying by category of building, by 15 March, local authorities will have to do the work and attempt to get reimbursement from landowners. If they do not, the Government will cut 20% of the councils’ annual grant.
 
The Government says it has made it easy for councils, they can borrow the money from a special 50 million euro fund, and not have to bother with getting quotes from multiple contractors - a direct appointment system will be OK, whatever the estimated cost. 
 
Some councils will not wish to start borrowing money from the State, having spent years paying-off previous loans.
 
Many owners have not registered their land, a way of avoiding council taxes, despite earning money from growing trees for the pulp industry. Other owners will not have the money to clear their land themselves or money to repay the council for doing the work.
 
Eduardo Cabrita now says the councils will only have to repay the State, after being repaid by the landowners. This will increase council borrowings if work is done and no owner is found.
 
If owners are incapable of funding the work themselves, leaving it up to the council’s contractors, their land may be seized and auctioned off to pay for the scrub clearance work.

Comments  

0 #11 Denby 2018-02-20 19:31
Thanks,
Terry P or Sarah f
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0 #10 SarahF 2018-02-20 10:20
Quoting Denby:
Terry,
I was referring to citizens or foreigners, who are land owners and you will find that there is not any land that is not registered in Portugal and that belongs to someone.

Not so, around 20% of Portugal's land has no registered owner. This is why Luis Capoulas Santos came up with the State Land Bank idea, to use unregistered land by letting it. See Ed's report back in late 2016 : https://www.algarvedailynews.com/news/10230-land-bank-to-reduce-eucalyptus-plantations-and-fire-risk
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0 #9 Denby 2018-02-20 09:58
Terry,
I was referring to citizens or foreigners, who are land owners and you will find that there is not any land that is not registered in Portugal and that belongs to someone.
locals would say, You must be joking, that the Government would Not miss a chance to collect revenue.
Getting back to the report on scrub clearance, whatever happened to the idea of Forestry landowners deploying sheep and goats to keep the grass beneath the tree's short and therefore less likely to be a fire hazard.
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0 #8 TerryP 2018-02-20 08:27
Quoting Denby:
Everyone has to pay tax on their property in Portugal. If the tax is not paid, the Government will take over the land, this is the law.
So zero points to Liveaboard and Hamilton for providing us with the incorrect information.

Not so Denby. Political parties and the Catholic Church, maybe other churches too, are exempt from IMI.

I expect there to be other qualifying entities.
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0 #7 Denby 2018-02-20 00:34
Everyone has to pay tax on their property in Portugal. If the tax is not paid, the Government will take over the land, this is the law.
So zero points to Liveaboard and Hamilton for providing us with the incorrect information.
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0 #6 Hamilton 2018-02-19 18:01
Full marks to Liveaboard for pointing out the fundamental problem - that so much land is unregistered or mis-registered to Portuguese in Portugal. The nominated owners may have been dead or expat many years.
So many of us foreigners arrive and are the first to correctly register a parcel of land. Then, as our Portuguese improves or a lawyer explains to us, we learn that there were multiple owners, not just in multiple countries but even, in our case, one mentally incapacitated inheritor in a foreign country unfit to sign documents so needing a responsible adult in the foreign country put forward. Getting a handle on this is far more about the state of Portugal's development and its inability to see anti-social behaviour as anti-social behaviour! Instead somehow seeing it as something honourable like rebelling against the State or the Big People - as in avoiding motorway tolls.
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+1 #5 Denby 2018-02-19 11:30
Considering the amount of life's lost in the fires last year and the devastation to the country as a whole, there should be zero tolerance to land owners who do not comply with safety standards. That is the clearance of all of vegetation within the forest and the perimeter of the forest.
This is the responsibility of the land owners and taxpayer revenue should not be used for this purpose. I would imagine that there could be a public revolt if the Government consider using tax revenue to pay for bad management practices.
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+2 #4 Peter Booker 2018-02-19 09:02
There are many thousands of hectares in the interior of the country which are covered by cistus scrub and which, so far as I can see from this report, will not be affected by this legislation.

In any case, where are the machines, let alone the manpower, coming from to do all this work? And to such a tight deadline? Much of the land in the Algarve is owned by individuals incapable of any such clearing work.

But having said all that, it is a start to tackling a problem, which, because of the drought, will be even worse this coming year.
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0 #3 liveaboard 2018-02-19 08:41
Each plot in each camara will have to be inspected by someone actually on the ground, presumably from the local fire department.
If the inspector needs to contact the owner where does he even start? Rural plots are poorly marked, cardeneta maps are usually outdated and extremely difficult to read.
Once a plot is determined to be dangerous, its owner has to be notified. Without a good usable database of land ownership, and the owner's current addresses, and reliable postal delivery to those addresses, how can notices be sent out? Many rural plots have multiple owners living in distant locations.
Warnings and follow up visits will likely be the norm, before appointing a work crew. There will be disputes.
How many plots, how many days will that take by how many people?
The basic fabric of land ownership in Portugal will need to be modernized. In reality, a land tax is required just to establish a database of ownership, pay for it, and lay the base for fines, eventual seizure, and resale of abandoned property.
There is a huge amount of work to be done, an entire system of inspection and enforcement to be developed as well as the actual clearance of brush. It will take time, money, and political will.
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0 #2 Darcy 2018-02-18 23:03
The government should think about charging land owners large fines if they don't clear the long grasse's from their land by a certain date.
The fine should increase with every week, if after 5 weeks and the land has still not been cleared then contractors should be sent in to do this job. If after 5 years the bill has not been paid, a compulsory purchase order should be placed on the land and sold to someone who has a good record of keeping his land clean.
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