Athlone Chamber of Commerce has expressed deep concern pertaining to the manner in which the mooted six percent increase in commercial rates has been promoted by both executive and elected members of the local authority.
Speaking this week, Mr. John McGrath, President, Athlone Chamber of Commerce, noted that the rejection of a residential property tax increase as resulted in such a measure now being proposed.
“It is apparent that the decision not to increase the residential property tax by fifteen percent as recommended by the executive of the Council has resulted in the suggested need to raise commercial rates by six percent. It would appear both increases equate to approximately €950,000.
At the September meeting of the Westmeath County Council, Chief Executive, Mr. Pat Gallagher, reiterated his advice that the increased income was badly needed to support initiatives which had been outlined to the members. He advised that if the Council did not make provision for it through the Local Property Tax, raising the required revenue would need to be considered as part of the Budget 2020 process. He advised that raising the sum of €966,000 through the rates would require a relevant increase of six percent,” John remarked.
The Athlone Chamber of Commerce President is concerned with the manner in which decisions are now made with respect to revenue generation within the county.
“The Chamber of Commerce in Athlone has observed that many counties have increased residential property tax by up to 15 percent for the purpose of supporting projects within the counties concerned. These are generally projects which support communities such as greenways, regeneration projects and economic investments such as co-working spaces or innovative hubs.
“In Westmeath, the projects this year based on the CEO’s report include Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, delivering a range of regeneration and rural development projects, improving public lighting infrastructure and implementing the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. It is fair to say funds are needed for these. However, Athlone Chamber of Commerce are concerned that the costs are to be borne by local businesses yet again. Using the fact that residential property tax has not been increased to therefore automatically increase rates by six percent is unacceptable and more transparency is required.
“The need to increase rates could be reduced if sufficient benefit is taken of the Urban and Rural Regeneration Funds and the Enterprise Ireland Regional Economic Development Fund (REDF ) and should funds be required for these, opportunities exist to partner with private enterprise and reduce the need to rely solely on the public purse.
“The minister’s circular in July 2018 stated applications should be ideally local authority led, but may also include community and/or private sector partners, matched by at least 25 percent direct (public and/or private ) funding from other sources, for the delivery and/or further development of innovative and transformational urban regeneration proposals and likely to leverage significant further public and private sector investment,” John continued.
The Athlone Chamber of Commerce President pointed out that high value projects, with benefits to both the general public and businesses, are achievable through these funds.
“Athlone Chamber of Commerce had prepared and application for the last round of the REDF which they had hoped to submit in September. However, the funding model had not been finalised and Athlone Chamber will now need to finalise the funding and submit an application for funding in the next round of REDF calls which is expected in 2020,” the President concluded.