Commercial rates hike sparks heated debate
AN increase in commercial rates was a tough sell for county manager Philomena Poole when the 2014 budget was presented to Louth County Councillors last week.
The proposed 0.5% increase saw members threatening not to support the budget as the plight of retailers and business people struggling to regain stability was highlighted.
The manager explained that the provision for commercial rates next year was based on an increase of 0.05% in the annual rate in valuation from 55.08 to 55.38.
'Louth County Council currently has the third lowest rate in valuation of all county councils,' said Ms. Poole, adding that this rate has been held since 2010.
She explained that it was a vital increase as other sources of income are reducing year on year, including the closure of the landfill and the reduction in the local government fund.
With the amalgamation of the councils taking place in mid 2014, the manager explained that this increase was necessary for the 'realignment' of rates within the county to bring all rates within the county and urban areas in line.
'To achieve this a base rate will be set by the council for the 2015 budget. This local authority will have a limited period to bring their rates to the agreed base year.'
She pointed out that this base rate must be achieved over the next 10 years.
Cllr. Alan Grehan told the meeting: 'To send out the message that we are increasing the rate is the wrong message.'
'Rents are at an historic low, yet we are sending out the message that rates are only going one way, and I can't support that.'
Cllr. Martin Murnaghan explained that business people in Louth had only experienced an increase in trade over the last few months.
'So to put rates up now is a lot to ask people who are trying to make up for four or five years of nothing happening. Instead of increasing rates by 0.5%, we should be cutting them 2.5%.'
Cllr. Frank Godfrey also criticised the rate increase, saying that it should be cut by up to 5%.
Cllr. Pio Smith asked if there had been any analysis carried out on the impact of a rate increase across Louth?
Cllr. Peter Savage agreed that there appeared to be no indication as to what effect this rise in the commercial rate would be.
Cllr. Tommy Byrne added: 'I don't know for the life of me how people are going to be able to pay the increased rate. I am going to find it hard to support the budget as a result.'
Cllr. Colm Markey asked if it were possible to look at any form of discount for rates payers who made their payments early.
But finance officer Bernie Woods said that rates legislation was set in stone.
She added that the council will always work with people who are struggling to pay, and can set up payment plans, which many business people already have done across the county.
But she pointed out that there was no way in which to provide discounts, or alleviate rates for those who are in a difficult situation.
After a heated debate councillors agreed to the 0.5% increase in the commercial rates for 2014.