There was divided opinion at Kerry County Council’s annual budget meeting which heard details of plans to harmonise rates across the county over an eight-year period.
Killarney had a lower commercial rate than the rest of Kerry, under the now abolished town council system, and there is opposition in the tourist centre to plans to increase the rates in the town by more than 10%.
Council chief executive Moira Murrell, presenting the 2015 budget, said under a phased harmonisation period there would be an annual rates valuation of €79.25 which she described as “fair, equitable and reasonable”.
It would also generate a €800,000 fund for economic enterprise and tourism development, she pointed out.
The recently-appointed Ms Murrell said the budget report was sending out a strong message of support to business and she was taking a long to medium term view of funding.
However, Independent councillor Danny Healy-Rae voiced disappointment with the €79.25 valuation which, he felt, should be around €76.
He asked that money collected in Killarney be retained for spending in Killarney, saying the local tourism product had to be protected as it drove the industry in the “whole South of Ireland”.
Tralee-based Cllr Pa Daly (SF) claimed groups such as the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) were already using incentives, such as reduced Vat, to maximise profits, while the number of full-time hotel employees had fallen by 24% and 40% more of their staff were on the minimum wage.
“It’s not fair, or reasonable, that Killarney should have lower rates,” he said. “We should not be sending out the message that there’s one rule for hotels and restaurants in Killarney and another rule for the rest of the county.”
Cllr Pat McCarthy (FG) said businesses in a town like Killarney with “massive” cashflow should not be treated the same as those in a small village such as Knocknagoshel.
Some councillors called for the harmonisation period to be reduced to five years, but Cllr Donal Grady (Ind), based in Killarney, said the eight-year period was necessary to protect employment and ensure the survival of some hard-pressed local businesses.
Ms Murrell said the €124m budget was prepared from a sound financial position and had a good balance between maintaining services and providing for future growth.
She said businesses experiencing genuine difficulty would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but those unwilling to pay their rates would be pursued through the usual channels.
In 2015, rates income will account for €41m, Irish Water recoupment €13m and the local property tax €12m, with €26m from government grants.