Monday 10 December 2018

Traders voice anger over burning issue of rates

Some business owners facing major hikes after revaluation, writes Pádraig Byrne

John Walsh of Mahady Breen’s Shoe Shop on Market Square
John Walsh of Mahady Breen’s Shoe Shop on Market Square
Ibar Carty
District Manager Liz Hore

Business owners in Enniscorthy are at their wits end after many of them were hit with drastic increases in their rates this week. Personnel from the valuations office have been in touch with a number of local business owners and while many of them have seen their rates sky-rocket, others are left waiting for an inevitable increase.

Business owners in the town centre in particular have lashed out at the council over the increase, pointing out that there are upwards of 50 vacant units in the town already and this could be increased as a result of the new rates valuations. However, Wexford County Council and local representatives are at pains to point out that these decisions are in fact made by the National Valuation Office and, bar a 3% increase in rates in 2018, there had been no increase in rates from their end since 2009.

Mary Elizabeth's Boutique on Castle Street is one of those that has seen an astonishing increase in rates. Since opening eight years ago, the rates had been fixed at €1,200 per year. However, in January the Valuation office got in touch and said that this would increase to €5,500. Now the owner is left wondering whether the shop is viable in its current location.

'For rates to multiply by four would put any business under pressure,' said Mary Elizabeth. 'Unfortunately, with rates like that, I would be forced to think of opening up in a different location, maybe even a different town. When I first opened up here eight years ago, there were twice as many boutiques. Do they want them all to close down?'

While the council have indicated that rates revenue is vital in terms of funding major projects for Enniscorthy going forward, Mary Elizabeth says she is puzzled as to where her money is going.

'What do I get for €5,500? I don't have any parking here. I'm not on the Main Street. If I'm taking in a delivery, I have to run with clothes from the loading bay at the top of the hill. You'd have to sell a lot of clothes to come up with the €5,500 they are looking for. I think it's highly unfair and they are not doing business in Enniscorthy any favours. Enniscorthy is a beautiful town and I've made some great friends and have great customers here, but it just doesn't have the footfall of the likes of Wexford and Gorey. There's no point in saying the town is thriving when it's not.'

Across the street, photographer Ibar Carty has seen quite a few businesses come and go in the town and says that major action is needed on the rates issue.

'What is the sense in having the same rates for businesses in Wexford town and Gorey as Enniscorthy when they have a hundred times more footfall?' he asked. 'You look at that vacant shop across the road. Someone could rent that for a song, but it would cost over €7,000 in rates before you do anything with it. They will close more businesses down if they don't rate these businesses fairly and properly.'

District Manager Liz Hore was aware of the dissatisfaction amongst business owners and said that rates are not necessarily the same in Enniscorthy as the likes of Wexford and Gorey.

'There is a base rate of €73 per square foot across the county, but other things are then taken into consideration,' she said. 'They take into consideration location, square footage and rent and all that is factored in before they come up with a figure. Some of these premises may not have been valued for a long time, but rates have not gone up by 200%. The valuations office have also said that some rates in Enniscorthy will go down, but we don't hear as much about those.'

In addition to this, Ms Hore pointed out that there are incentives available to help businesses when it comes to rates and urged anyone struggling to contact the council.

'We all have to work together on this,' she said. 'We have major plans for Enniscorthy, but it does need help. We'll have the Technology Park and the bypass coming along soon and things are really looking very positive for the next year. In the meantime, we just have to ask for the support of the business community and encourage people to shop local and support their local businesses.'

Given the amount of closed commercial units in Enniscorthy town centre though, business owners are finding it hard to swallow that great things are on the horizon, and are saying that their businesses may not survive to see things pick up.

Mahady Breen's shoe shop in Market Square is one of the oldest businesses in town, having served the local community for nearly 140 years. Owner John Walsh, however, says things are getting worse and he doesn't see how any new business owners can earn a living.

'I've written to both our local TDs on the rates issue myself,' he said. 'I've asked them are they happy to be presiding over a dying town, and that's what it is. It's not just Enniscorthy though, this is happening to small towns all over Ireland. Rates should be coming down to encourage people to start up businesses, not going up. They should be judged on your turnover and profitability and nothing else. Things are definitely getting worse. At least in the recession, you knew where you stood; you cut back a bit on the stock you ordered in and that type of thing. Last year, I felt things had picked up a bit and I relaxed a bit on my stock and it was the worst thing I could've done. I've been criticised for saying these things before, but until people realise that our towns are dying, nothing will be done.'

Mr Walsh says that when it comes to retirement, he cannot see anyone willing to pay the rates of €6,300 that he has to pay on his town centre shop and therefore might have to look at different options.

'I would hope that in a couple of years I'll be retiring and I'd like to be able to rent the premises out,' he said. 'I don't think that will happen though. I feel to turn this back into two houses might be the answer. It would be worth more as housing stock than retail stock the way things are. We have to be realistic about these things and it's not for me, it's for the next generation. I've made a living out of my shop. I think the only fair way of doing things is for rates to be judged on turnover and profitability.'

Last week, local businessman John Kavanagh of Kavanagh's Giftware in Market Square said that he has five empty units in Enniscorthy and, while low rents are attracting potential businesses, once they hear how much the rates are, they walk away. 'You can get a unit for rents that are jaw-dropping at the minute, really cheap,' he said. 'But the minute you mention how much the rates are, you're shot down.'

County Council Chairman Cllr Keith Doyle, who had an extremely heated debate on local radio surrounding the rates issue last week, said that there are premises available with reasonable rates too.

'We don't want to give out the impression that Enniscorthy is not a good place to set up a business because of high rates,' he said. 'That's unfair to the many great businesses operating in the town. There are great incentives available to people setting up businesses that are there to be availed of.'

A business owner himself at Astor Electrical, Cllr Doyle candidly says that rates are something which no business owners enjoy paying.

'As a trader myself, obviously you would like to pay the least amount possible,' he said. 'It's one thing that you've no control over. You can look at your ESB bills or any other bills and switch or see what you can do, but there's no control over the rates. This is a national issue, it's not just Enniscorthy. I feel like a lot of the blame is being laid with the council but the revaluation is done through the National Valuations Office in Dublin. It's nothing to do with the council.'

While the comparison between rates in the likes of Wexford or Gorey and Enniscorthy was also brought up, Cllr Doyle again wished to reassure people that they are not judged with the same yardstick.

'We had a meeting with representatives from the valuations office at County Council level around six months ago,' he said. 'One of the things I was clear on is that you can't have a business in Enniscorthy rated the same as businesses in Wexford or Gorey and they said that wouldn't be the case. They assured me that allowances would be made in terms of location, rent and the size of the building.'

Cllr Doyle did concede that there are major anomalies with the system and urged business owners who are having problems to engage with the council.

Enniscorthy Guardian