independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Councils plan raft of fee hikes to fight funding cuts

STRUGGLING Irish businesses and householders face a raft of stealth fee hikes as councils brace themselves for further government funding cuts.

With most Irish councils determined to freeze commercial rates for 2013 to protect businesses and employment, a flood of proposed fee increases for local authority services will now be voted on over the next fortnight.

These include:

• Hikes of up to 6pc in commercial water charges.

• Increased fees for fire brigade call-outs of up to €50.

• Heating system servicing costs now fully passed on to council tenants.

• Higher charges for residential parking permits.

• Hikes of 20pc-plus for burial plots.

The Irish Independent understands that some councils are considering a full review of their rental regimes and even dog license fee hikes.

Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Sligo and Donegal councils are determined to balance their books following successive funding cuts from the Government.

Most have seen their grants axed by 30pc since 2008.

The Local Government Fund, the scheme used to fund Irish councils, was slashed by €164m in 2011/12.

However, councils are reluctant to directly increase commercial rates amid fears such a hike could drive businesses into closure.

Closures

Cork City Council was the focus of a dramatic row last week when a District Court judge queried the connection between business closures and high commercial rates.

Judge Olann Kelleher pointed out that he had almost 400 arrears cases in his Christmas list in relation to non-payment of commercial rates.

"As I walk down South Mall, half the place is empty, and Oliver Plunkett Street is the same. We are hitting rates at such a height that we are closing businesses," he said.

The combination of slashed government grant supports and falling revenue from commercial rates due to business closures as well as the inability to pay has hit some councils harder than others.

Sligo Co Council, Donegal Co Council, Clare Co Council and Offaly Co Council have all experienced major increases in the size of their deficits since 2010.

A Department of the Environment auditors' report warned that some authorities faced serious financial difficulties unless costs were slashed and revenue streams were increased.

Irish Independent

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