Local independent councillor, Michael O’Brien, is calling on the government to urgently reform the commercial rates system before small retailers are driven out of business.
His calls come in light of the completion of a national revaluation of commercial properties, which has resulted in 102 small retailers across Westmeath receiving massive increases in their rates liability for 2018. Some larger operations have seen their rates reduced.
Some 54.5 per cent of ratepayers have had their rates liability reduced, but 45.5 per cent - 1,133 businesses - have had theirs increased. Of this number, 714 are experiencing an increase of up to €1,000 per annum. A further 198 are experiencing an increase of more than €2,000, with the remaining 221 ratepayers experiencing an increase of more than €2,000 per annum.
“This is absolutely ridiculous; you couldn’t make this stuff up,” Cllr O’Brien said at a meeting of Athlone Municipal District last week.
“The ratepayers that are most affected by this are the small retailers and traders in our towns and villages. Rural Ireland is been hit hard once again. Small retailers and traders across the county who worked hard during the recession to keep their doors open are now being subjected to this craziness.”
Announced early last year, the new rates were met with concern by local business owners and derision by some local politicians. Cllr Aengus O’Rourke (FF ) described the valuations used to calculate the rates as “outdated and convoluted” and urged businesses to appeal if they felt that their valuation was unfair.
Deputy Robert Troy (FF ) accused the Government of “abandoning” struggling businesses. Troy called for a cap on rate increases as well as a staggered payment plan to lessen the burden on cash-strapped businesses.
The situation at the beginning of 2018 remains unchanged. Politicians are once again asking the Government for the same reform as last year.
“The revaluation process was completed early in 2017, so the government has had time to address this, but so far they have failed to do so,” said Cllr O’Brien. “Simon Coveney, who was Local Government Minister last year, was preparing for a revamp of commercial rates system but nothing has come to pass so far.
“I am appealing to the government to address this serious issue before our towns and villages witness more closures and job losses.”