A record €120m was collected in rates in Co Cork last year, up nearly €30m on 2010.
County Hall acknowledged the challenging circumstances which some businesses continue to endure; staff in its rates collection office had engaged with around 14,000 ratepayers to agree payment plans on a case-by-case basis.
Roisin O’Sullivan, the council’s head of finance, said a recovering economic environment, allied to apparent better access to credit, resulted in more engagement by ratepayers.
On top of that, she said, it was the first full year the county council took over rates collection for the nine town councils which were dissolved in summer 2014.
Ms O’Sullivan said a rise in property sales was noted in 2015 which, in some cases, led to new owners paying off rates owned by previous occupants.
The rates’ collection office had to resort to legal action in some cases. Many were resolved as soon as there was a threat of court action.
Overall, 267 cases were entered for court hearings and 94 judgments were obtained.
Despite the record rates revenue, the council had to strike off €12.52m as being irrecoverable.
Ms O’Sullivan said that this was primarily due to businesses closing, being liquidated, or put into receivership.
“Given the difficult economic circumstances and the additional challenges posed by the transition of collection from town councils to the county council, I am satisfied that the level of collection achieved in 2015 is very satisfactory,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
She said rates accounted for 41% of the council’s income for 2015.
Overall council’s overall income for 2015 was €302m, and it ended up with an excess of €1.6m.
Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus McGrath said the significant increase was very welcome as it helps pay for council services.
His party colleague, Joe Carroll, said the council should go “easier” on rates for pubs as many were struggling and were basically the only “community centres” left in many rural areas.
Bantry-based pub owner and Independent councillor Danny Collins said many licensed premises were “struggling to keep their heads above water” while Fine Gael councillor Michael Hegarty said the amount of closures of pubs in rural areas over the last six months was alarming.
“They are the life and soul of a lot of rural areas and we have to be seen to be doing something to keep them afloat,” said Mr Hegarty.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said the local authority had very flexible arrangements in place for ratepayers and a lot of businesses taking advantage of the offer.
“Rates is probably the smallest of all utility bills,” said Mr Lucey. “Around 70% pay less than €3,000 per annum. If any businesses are in trouble then they need to come and talk to us.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Gillian Coughlan said it was unfair that ratepayers in the Bandon Town Council area had, over the years, to pay more than those in Kinsale.
Mr Lucey pointed out that rates in town council-controlled areas had traditionally been a lot lower than in the county.
He said current county rates will be frozen until 2021 and businesses in former town council areas will experience gradual increases during that period until charges are harmonised across the county.
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