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Council Chiefs Insist Most Businesses Will Escape Rates Hike

Thursday, 24 November 2016

THE great majority of businesses in Offaly will escape a rise in their rates bill despite an increase in 2017, County Council chiefs insisted on Monday.
An effective 10 per cent rebate for commercial rate payers will negate a hike which brings all rates up to €66 next year.
Under a harmonisation of commercial rates necessitated by the abolition of Tullamore and Birr Town Councils, the local authority had previously agreed to phase in a common charge across all of Offaly over three years from 2016.
The harmonisation is resulting in a rate increase outside of Tullamore and Birr and was originally supposed to conclude in 2018.
However, council chief executive Anna Marie Delaney told councillors in advance of the adoption of the 2017 budget that a commercial rate revaluation now taking place precluded the authority from implementing the third phase in 2018.
Deferring the final adoption of the €66 in the euro rate to 2019 would cost the council €500,000, Ms Delaney warned.
Monday's budget meeting was also told by Declan Conlon, head of finance, that the combination of the annual five per cent rates rebate into one year would mean no increase for most rate payers.
Mr Conlon said nearly 82 per cent of businesses in Offaly were paying less than €5,000 in rates each year and two thirds of rate payers were in the €3,000 bracket.
Cllr Eamon Dooley, Fianna Fail, proposed that the council agree to the chief executive's recommendation because of the cost of the deferral and because the rates rebate would cut the actual bill hitting businesses.
Cllr Dooley also proposed a number of changes to the draft budget which will result in more money being pumped into local areas and targets completion of work on 22 houses awaiting improvement for disabled persons.
The Fianna Fail proposal was supported by Fine Gael and most of the other members with only Cllr John Foley, Independent, and the three Sinn Fein councillors voting against it.
Cllr Dooley's plan will see €60,000 being diverted from spending on housing voids to DPG's (disabled persons' grants).
A total of €140,000 will remain in the budget for repair work on council houses which are currently 'void' and therefore unsuitable for rental to those on the social housing list.
Cllr Dooley also suggested that the council be more focussed on the collection of rent arrears.
The Fianna Fail councillor also recalled that a year ago he had suggested that more money be spent on work such as improvements to footpaths in local authority housing estates.
He proposed that €90,000 be earmarked in the budget for that purpose, €50,000 of that to be achieved by a cut in payroll costs and the remainder to come from increased rent collection.
This improvement work will remain for the lifetime of the council and he hoped more money would be spent up to 2019.
'Indeed we will try and increase this amount,' he told the chamber.
Bringing forward the harmonisation of the rates will bring in €500,000 income to the council, he said, €360,000 after the return to rate payers availing of the rebate.
Cllr Dooley proposed that €60,000 of the €360,000 will be ploughed into the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
This Government scheme will see work being carried out in Edenderry, Clara, Kinnitty and Shannonbridge.
Cllr Dooley said €20,000 each should be added to the renewal scheme budgets for Edenderry and Clara and €10,000 each for Kinnitty and Shannonbridge.
The remaining €300,000 will be divided evenly between the three Municipal Districts of Tullamore, Birr and Edenderry.
Cllr Dooley urged that only 'one or two projects' should be selected for each district so that the money will not be too dispersed.
The councillor also suggested that €100,000 should be set aside by the council for a three-month period for the civic amenity site.
Councillors had been told that the site (formerly known as the county dump or landfill in Derryclure) would absorb some €400,000 in 2017 because of an increase in operating costs.
In an early signal that the budget as proposed by Cllr Dooley would be carried, Cllr Tommy McKeigue, Fine Gael, said he concurred with much of what the Fianna Fail member had said.
'What Cllr Dooley said makes an awful lot of sense,' said Cllr McKeigue.
Cllr Foley disagreed, saying that while he had 'no issue in principle' with Cllr Dooley's proposal, he felt the time was not right.
The Independent councillor from Edenderry saiad there were many small companies in north Offaly and across the county who would be affected by the rate increase.
'I believe it's going to cost jobs,' said Cllr Foley, proposing that the rate increase be pushed out to 2019.
For Sinn Fein, Cllr Brendan Killeavy said while he welcomed most of Cllr Dooley's proposal, his party had originally suggested that the harmonisation be phased in over five years, not three.
Now those three years were being done over two, said Cllr Killeavy. 'I don't think it's good enough to put that pressure on businesses in the county. It's a huge increase in one year,' he said.
Cllr Killeavy said the €400,000 cost to the council in managing the civic amenity site was 'nearly swallowing up all we got on rates'.
Previously the facility made a profit but now the council had to pay a company to run it, said Cllr Killeavy.
'We keep saying to people there will be extra money but they don't see the benefits on the ground,' said Cllr Killeavy.
The Tullamore councillor also said the council had made a mistake, 'myself included', when they decided to put €550,000 each year towards an outstanding loan on the landfill site.
He said buoyancy in rates income would allow a deferral of the increase to 2019 and he suggested restructuring the remaining debt.
Cllr Dervill Dolan, Independent, said he was conscious of the difficulties facing businesses and said he would support the budget proposal if a rates rebate of 7.5 per cent was to be introduced in the following year.
Cllr Dolan also sought between €50,000 and €70,000 for the Town Renewal Scheme in Clara, arguing that the proposed €20,000 extra was not enough.
Cllr Liam Quinn, Fine Gael, agreed with the suggestion of a 7.5 per cent rates rebate and also said the money going into the Municipal Districts should be 'project specific'.
Cllr John Carroll, Independent, said the fact that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were operating a 'confidence and supply' agreement on the council meant the budget proposal they agreed would be carried.
The Birr member agreed with Cllr Dolan on the need for an increased rates rebate and he said he would 'reluctantly' be supporting the proposed budget.
Cllr John Leahy, Renua, said he would support the budget because it would result in more money being put into towns and villages but he stressed that he wished to see houses on main streets occupied so that life could return to areas.
Cllr Leahy welcomed the inclusion of €75,000 in the budget towards Offaly's bid to host Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, plus €55,000 for tourism promotion.
Fine Gael's Cllr John Clendennen noted that only two to three per cent of the council's €52.5 million budget could be influenced by councillors.
He hoped the additional investment in the county would have a ripple effect and he called on the Government to roll out another Town and Village Renewal Scheme because places like Banagher were crying out for investment.
Cllr Martin O'Reilly, Sinn Fein, said the role small and medium businesses play in communities needed to be recognised and increasing rates was not going to help them.
Cllr Declan Harvey, Fianna Fail, said people had to pay for recycling so the council's spending on the civic amenity site was a 'double whammy'.
Cllr Noel Cribbin, Independent, said he would be supporting Cllr Dooley's proposal and while there would be 'some pain', he hoped the smaller businesses would get the ten per cent rebate.
The proposal to bring forward the rates harmonisation from 2018 to 2017 and the budget as suggested by Cllr Dooley was carried by 14 votes to four.
Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Renua and the Independent councillors Cribbin, Carroll and Dolan all voted in favour of the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael proposal while the three Sinn Fein councillors and Cllr Foley voted against it.
Council chairman, Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick, welcomed the adoption of the budget.
'I know it was a huge step to bring the harmonisation forward but hopefully this will be for the betterment of the areas going forward,' said Cllr Fitzpatrick.

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