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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Traders facing Stubbs over rates levy

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

‘INJURIOUS’: Ratepayers’ spokesman Peter Kerrigan
‘INJURIOUS’: Ratepayers’ spokesman Peter Kerrigan

Traders in one of the country's most severely depressed town centres are facing ruin and having their names published as debt defaulters in Stubbs Gazette over an additional rates levy, it is being claimed.

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It is understood that around 200 traders in Dun Laoghaire received warning letters from Stubbs on behalf of Dun Laoghaire Council from the semi-state body, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), for non-payment of an additional €200 levy on their rates.

Traders who spoke to the Sunday Independent said trading conditions in the town centre have become so bad - with a third of shops now lying empty - that the additional levy is in many cases the "straw that will break their backs".

With almost two-thirds of the main Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre vacant and "To Let" and "For Sale" signs lining the main street, the commercial centre has been collapsing for years. Local traders said last week that the strict parking regime, which raises €6m a year for the local council, has driven trade away from the town to suburban shopping centres.

Despite the council spending €50m on a seafront lib-rary, the commercial centre has become dilapidated, with broken pavements and poor lighting and groups of drug addicts hanging around near the town's methadone clinic, traders say.

Local ratepayers association spokesman Peter Kerrigan has written to the council, saying the additional rates levy is "ruinous" for small traders still clinging on in the town centre.

He was scathing about the council and BIDs' use of Stubbs Gazette as a way of collecting arrears from traders who, he says, clearly cannot afford any additional costs.

"In terms of impact, the gravity of a publication such as Stubbs for a business like ourselves is injurious," said Mr Kerrigan. "We are facing the ruinous consequences.

"It is deeply regrettable that the instigators of this publication, the Directors of BIDs, are also fellow business people in our town. The irony is not lost; a scheme set up to improve business for the town is victimising small businesses with deleterious publicity such as this.

"Parking, traffic and rates are impacting all of us in Dun Laoghaire. Now we have to contend with public persecution for a charge we believe, and are fully entitled to believe, is not due and owing."

In response to a query from the Sunday Independent, the council said it could not give out the exact number of businesses that had not paid the levy, but estimated it at about 30pc of the total.

On behalf of BIDs, it added: "Unfortunately, a certain number of businesses have not paid this statutory levy, despite the fact that they will all benefit. This is unfair on the ratepayers, who are mainly small businesses, who have paid.

"All of the businesses in question received a letter to advise that we would have to engage professionals to recover the debt if they continued to avoid engagement with us to come up with a solution.

"For now, there is a statutory obligation to pay the annual levy, which is less than €200 per annum for nearly 70pc of the ratepayers."

In the case of businesses that do not pay the levy, "the matter is out of our hands and the normal procedure to recover unpaid debts ensues".

Last year, traders in the town said some of their members had become suicidal over the loss of trading and increases in levies and rents.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's Annual Financial Statement shows income generated in 2014 from parking fees and fines was €5,990,629. While a strict parking meter regime has been imposed, council staff enjoy free parking, with 225 spaces provided in three of the town's car parks.

Sunday Independent

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