Council slams judge's rates remarks
A judge has been accused of making ill-informed, unfair and unbalanced remarks after he criticised Cork City Council chiefs for suing businesses for unpaid rates.
Tim Lucey, the city manager, said he took serious issue with the tenor and contents of comments from Judge Olann Kelleher while hearing 170 debt cases on Wednesday.
He said: "It is particularly regrettable that the remarks on the rates policy of Cork City Council were not properly informed and, as a consequence, were unfair and unbalanced."
In a lengthy statement criticising the judge's remarks, Mr Lucey said that attempting to blame business closures on the council was facile. He said the judge had created the impression that Cork City Council was not fully aware of the difficulties businesses find themselves in.
"It is not in the interests of Cork City Council to seek the closure of businesses which are the sources of municipal funding," Mr Lucey said.
The judge hit out as he had 170 rates cases on his court list in Cork District Court. He said he expected another 200 in the run-up to Christmas and went on to note the amount of empty shops in South Mall and Oliver Plunkett Street.
Mr Lucey said the council only goes to court as a last resort after lengthy efforts to engage with a rate payer on payment. There are about 6,500 rate payers in the city. During Wednesday's hearing, orders were not sought in 96 cases following council applications.
"Indeed, this level of flexibility has been recognised previously by many judges in the District Court who were familiar with the council's perspective on the recovery of its commercial rate debt," Mr Lucey said.
The city council also noted it has not increased rates for four years and even a 10% cut would only reduce charges by less than 20 euro a week for 70% of city businesses.
"Commercial rates which the council is legally obliged to collect, and must levy to sustain local services, account for circa 35% of the city council's income," Mr Lucey said. "Cork City Council has never attempted to close a business in the city for non-payment of rates."