Sunday 19 November 2017

We need to talk about rates

Unfair rates bills are driving up prices in New Ross, pushing customers elsewhere. A local businessman is calling for urgent action. David Looby reports

Emmett Ronan outside his coffee house
Emmett Ronan outside his coffee house

The closure of three businesses in New Ross has been attributed, in part, to the high rates bills facing hard pressed business owners.

Green Angel Trading Company on the quay, a second hand shop on Mary Street and Equine Matters on the quay all closed in recent months, along with SportsSavers on South Street.

The problem of increasing rates bills is so critical that the future of retail in the town is at risk, according to Emmett Ronan of Harvey's cafe, the quay. Mr Ronan said the bypass will bring hundreds of people living in the hinterland of New Ross back into the town, because traffic will be considerably less along the quay, but there will be no retail offering if Wexford County Council persists with rates equalisation.

Speaking following the closure of a neighbouring shop, Green Angel Trading Company, Mr Ronan said: 'If I am paying Wexford rates I will bring my business to Wexford where I will have 20 times the footfall. Rates equalisation is going to close New Ross. The people of the town want to leave their money in New Ross, but realistically we have to charge more per person in New Ross, whereas in Wexford (and Waterford) they have more people coming in.'

Mr Ronan said his business is located on the periphery of the town centre, arguing that a separate rates rate should be applied to businesses like his. 'If the Dunbrody centre was expanding this way we would have benefited but it's expanding further down the quay. We pay €4,000 a year in rates whereas some of the older businesses in the centre are charged €1,500. People coming to businesses like mine spend €5 on average.'

Mr Ronan spent €50,000 fitting out his cafe, where four people are employed, before even opening his doors four years ago.

'I am a New Ross man and I always wanted my own place in New Ross, but if I had my time over again I would open in Wexford.'

Expressing concern that there will be no significant retail offering for visitors to New Ross once the bypass opens in two years time, he said: 'We are forcing people away from town and a lot of it is rates. As a New Ross man it pains me to say I would bring my business out of town and that I would have to do so to make it successful. We opened here four years ago this July and we are finally breaking even. People like Sean Connick at the Dunbrody and Eamonn Hore are trying to reinvent the town, but there is another element trying to shut it down.'

He called for a three year rate free, grace period to be introduced to enable business owners, saddled with start up costs, to survive and thrive, and pay back some of their financing back.

'It would make a lot more sense because the buildings are there and the council are not getting the rates out of businesses because they are closing. It's short term thinking for long term loss. New Ross has been really good to us in terms of repeat business, but people who open a business will be very discouraged when the first person they see is the man looking for rates as soon as they open their doors.'

Emma Jeffcock of Green Angel Trading Company, which closed in late April after two years on the quay, said local support is lacking but the high rates bill she faced every year is what closed her business. 'This is my third attempt at running a business in New Ross so you can't say I haven't tried,' she said.

The Kilkenny City native, ran a wholesale business, distributing Burt's Bees products to shops like Avoca from New Ross and had a shop at the mart and in the town. 'I opened here in 2015, having previously been in Jim Ryan's shop on South Street. I had no valuation on the business so we were hoping it would be fair. I paid the €250 for the valuation.'

Ms Jeffcock said she was shocked when she learned how much in rates she had to pay. Joined by her neighbouring businesses an appeal was issued to Wexford County Council to lower the rates for the businesses, on the grounds that they were located outside of the town centre. 'We submitted it too late, but I sent in my own request and I'm still awaiting a reply. They don't care. I know Wexford County Council wants to revive County Wexford, and especiallly New Ross, but they could actually make a difference with rates.'

Half of Ms Jeffcock's customers were people passing the shop who noticed her attractive window displays. 'Many would be driving by and they'd stop in and buy something, but rates are driving people out of the town. I know the rates people have a job to do but I had to pay the same rates as shops in the town centre.'

Ms Jeffcock said she has no regrets about being in business in New Ross. 'I loved it and I will really miss having a shop. I feel sad for New Ross. Retail is dying, but I am not surprised. You can't even buy a pair of runners in the town centre now. Rates are going up and up in New Ross and they have abolsutely killed retail. I just feel anyone starting a business in New Ross needs to be given some scope to have a chance of succeeding. There was no incentive for me. This place was a shell when I bought it so I spent a fortune doing the place up, but I didn't get anything: no break, no grant, nothing.'

She said if she was allowed to erect proper signage her business might have stood a chance, but this request was also rejected.

'You have to go somewhere else to shop If you are a busy mother and you're in Waterford why would you come back to New Ross to get another product. I also think there is a lack of community spirit in New Ross. I feel everyone could pull together more because that would benefit everyone. This is our town; it doesn't matter where we are from. We need to come together and figure something out. Another shop closed here called Equine Needs.'

New Ross Municipal District Staff Officer Claude Clancy said the assessment carried out by the valuer who inspected these properties was the correct valuation according to the valuer.

He said Wexford County Council has embarked on an ambitious programme to revitalise town centres across the county, including in New Ross, where a busines incubation centre is planned for John Street, along with two advance factory units in Butlersland industrial park.

He said the local authority has nothing to do with how rates are applied to businesses, as this is the job of the valuation officer, adding that each business is individually valued. 'The valuation officer is the only person who is legally responsible for the assessment of buildings. The local authority doesn't have any input,' he said.

Following the enactment of the Local Government Reform Act one annual rate is being set for the county. Previously each of the county's four town councils set their own rates. 'A harmonisation period commenced in 2015. We have to have one rate for the entire county. The former town councils of Enniscorthy and New Ross are subject to harmonisation.'

Through a budgetary process, councillors voted in favour of rates harmonisation in 2015.

'We increased rates which is not going to be a popular choice, but unfortunately we are legally obliged to harmonise rates. We have an obligation to collect them. We are trying to encourage as many traders as possible into the town and district. The local enterprise office and local development units are very conscious of the need for this.'

He said a rebranding New Ross project has been completed by third year Marketing students from Waterford Institute of Technology researching the town to highlight it positively.

He said some businesses in New Ross who are on the old rates system, will have to pay more rates once harmonisation comes fully into effect in seven years time. 'Then there will be the one rate for the entire county. Every account holder must pay on a ratable valuation and the annual rate on valuation.'

New Ross Standard

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