Farming

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Councillors can be the finest of people but do we need them all?

I was in a local business's premises recently. The boss came over to me spitting fire. He had just read a story in the Independent that Carlow County Council faced a €26,000 bill for the clean-up following the Borris Fair on August 15.

Fresh in his mind also was the latest rates demand he had received from the council.

"I know I have to pay rates and taxes but it is the waste, inefficiency and profligacy in how this money is spent which galls me," said the businessman. Other ratepayers share this view.

We've heard the story about the father and son in an aeroplane and the son, looking out the window, asks what are those black dots down there?

If they are moving they are crows, if not, they must be county council workers, came the reply.

It's unfair to label all with this tag. In our immediate area, the late Stephen Doyle was an excellent council employee who never stopped going.

I was reminded of Stephen recently when the council came to clear the rainwater cuttings on the local road verges. They came with a JCB, dumper trucks, temporary traffic lights and a small army of people. Between setting up and dismantling the traffic lights, etc, it took days to carry out the same work that Stephen used do on his own with a shovel.

Individually, local authority employees and elected councillors are the finest of people, but the system cries out for radical reform. Local democracy is laudable but do we need 75 town councils, 29 county councils plus 10 city and borough councils?

Also, bad habits adopted during the Celtic Tiger should be reversed. Prior to 2002, county and city councillors operated on a voluntary basis just like farmers in the IFA or ICMSA.

Today, they get a salary of about €17,000 per annum, plus their expenses and allowances.

€17,000 may not sound much but only a couple of years ago this was the average income for farmers and nationally the bill for the councillors approached €25m per year.

Rates are a huge cost for businesses, shop owners, garages, pubs, sport clubs and more. Vast numbers of people are in arrears with payment of their rates. While councils are showing a little more leniency to struggling ratepayers than the Revenue Commission is to taxpayers, the burden of rescuing the Irish economy is unduly loaded on the private sector. So much so that the sector is ready to revolt if given the chance and the leadership.

Now the plan is to extend rates to homes and other property.

In terms of broadening the tax base, it's hard to argue against some type of property-based charges.

But locally and nationally, rate payers will want to see greater value for their money. Like my businessman friend and the cost of the Borris Fair, the anger of the private sector at the extravagance and waste of Irish governance is palpable.

Indo Farming