Many business people and local authority tenants will breathe a sigh of relief after Cork County Council decided not to increase rates or rents next year.
County manager Martin Riordan previously signalled he might have to increase rates to balance the books, but at yesterday’s annual budget meeting, he said he was not going to do this as he recognised it was still a difficult time for businesses.
The council will have €306m to spend on services next year. That’s down €54m since 2008. During the same period, it has reduced its staff by 818 (23%) and made significant payroll savings.
Mr Riordan said the council would be paying the local property tax (LPT) contribution for its tenants next year, which amounted to €535,000.
He said it was disappointing that previous promises by the Government to return 80% of the LPT collected in the county back to the council had not come to fruition.
The LPT will instead go to funding Irish Water, which takes over running the nation’s water and sewerage schemes from Jan 1.
The council will act as an agent for Irish Water and Mr Riordan said he wasn’t happy that talks between the two on plant equipment and maintenance of schemes had not been concluded.
“Despite all the difficulties we are retaining our services at the same levels,” Mr Riordan told councillors.
The council was only notified of the level of its local government fund (LGF) allocation from the Department of Environment late on Thursday night. It meant that senior staff had to burn the midnight oil to adjust the budget accordingly.
Cllr Alan Coleman (FF) castigated Phil Hogan, the local government minister, for leaving it so late to announce the level of LGF.
“He presents it at the 11th hour even though it’s 56 days after the budget.
“This has never happened before and is indicative of how he’s mismanaged the department. If he was in Angela Merkel’s cabinet he would be sacked.”
Cllr Michelle Hennessy (SF) called Mr Hogan “a thundering disgrace” for going back on his word to provide money to the county council from the LPT takings.
Mr Riordan said that if he had got money from the LPT he would have been able to reduce the rates and he would have liked to have done that, especially for small businesses.
He added that €3m of the council’s own reserves had been utilised to balance the books.
Cllr Noel McCarthy (Lab) said he would have liked to see at least a 1% or 2% decrease in the rates to help struggling businesses, but Mr Riordan said every percentage reduction would cost the council €1m.
FG and Labour councillors ensured the budget was passed on a vote of 28 to 12.
Last night, Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber, said that if the Government had kept to its promise to repay 80% of the LPT to councils, the local authority would have been able to reduce the rates burden on businesses.
“I welcome the fact that there will be no increase in rates next year, but reductions are what’s required,” said Mr Healy.
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