Westmeath County Council has received a significant financial boost in recent times with a Government contribution of €5.5m afforded to the local authority to address the income vacuum incurred following the introduction of the commercial rates waiver in April of this year.
Such financial redress was formally welcomed this week by Town Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, who noted the vast importance of rates income to the local authority on an annual basis.
“I very much welcome the clarification from Government that Westmeath County Council has so far received approximately €5.5m to cover the commercial rates waiver.
“The Government effectively announced a commercial rates waiver to commence from April to the end of the calendar year which was a very welcome initiative for businesses within our local community.
“Without the Government replacing this funding our County Council would have simply ground to a halt as the rates income is the most important source of income for the local authority.
“While this fund replaces one significant lost income source - commercial rates, there are other income sources we depend upon and in which we are presently experiencing significant shortfalls.
“We have had limited income from Athlone Regional Sports Centre since March, our paid car parking receipts across the county are well short of where they would normally be and we have also witnessed a significant decline in visitors to our tourist attractions, notably Athlone Castle and Belvedere House.
“I understand that the Government is liaising closely with our local authority to determine the financial deficit and from my dealings with the local Ministers, I am reassured that the Government recognise that more support is needed and I trust that more good news is this regard will be forthcoming,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked.
Ensuring further local authority financial support is forthcoming, Longford-Westmeath Fine Gael Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has written to the Chief Executive of Westmeath County Council, Mr Pat Gallagher, reiterating Government’s support towards Westmeath County Council.
“The €900m commercial rates waiver will mean that the local Government sector won’t be at a loss or having to make ‘either’ ‘or’ decisions when it comes to providing vital services for people. Having served as a Councillor and Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, I am familiar with the important budgetary decisions that have to be made by our Councils and the key frontline services they provide.
“I am very aware that commercial rates are the backbone of local authority income which means that services such as playgrounds, sports facilities and library services can keep operating. We want to ensure that local authorities continue their important work and Government have not been and will not be found wanting in respect to support for the sector.
“I would like to take this opportunity to commend all local authorities for the exceptional leadership they has shown through their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have liaised directly with many Westmeath County Council officials over the period of the pandemic, and well before, and their commitment to the important jobs they undertake and complete is outstanding.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on every facet of life and the response of local Government to date has been phenomenal. Whether through the Community Call Fora or adapting their library services so people could continue to enjoy them, local authorities have adapted swiftly and innovatively to the situation.
“As local authorities begin to engage in their 2021 budgetary process they do so in the knowledge that Government has supported them with a commitment of just under one billion euro in commercial rates rebates.
“As Minister with special responsibility for local Government I will continue to advocate for and work on behalf of local authorities across the country to ensure they can keep doing what they do best for all of our citizens,” Minister Burke emphasised.