Latest freeze good news for traders in Athlone as rates stay put

There will be some new year’s cheer for the 777 ratepayers of Athlone with the news this week that there will be no increase in rates for 2010.

At the annual budget meeting held on Tuesday in the Civic Centre, the amount required to operate the municipality was revealed as €11.7m, down just under three per cent on 2009.

Despite all the criticism she fielded at last week’s meeting for suggesting cuts in the mayor’s and deputy mayor’s allowances, Cllr Shiela Buckley-Byrne’s initiative saw the former cut from €16,000 and the latter from €2,500 to €2,000.

“This is a very transparent budget. It is very important for people to see where the money is going in both planning terms and in investment in the town,” said county manager, Mr Danny McLoughlin.

“It’s all there and it’s a fantastic achievement considering the year we’ve had.

“I can’t see the Chamber of Commerce or the business community will have any difficulties with this. It’s a very fair budget.”

There were some calls to lower the rate, notably from Cllr Alan Shaw (FG ), who pointed out that: “Ratepayers have a real time increase of five tto six per cent as that’s what has been the decrease in the cost of living over the last 12 months.”

By and large, this is largely unacceptable,” said Cllr Shaw. “I’m supporting this budget somewhat reluctantly”.

However, the budget was roundly supported by the rest of the chamber.

“This council has always been very good at its housekeeping,” said father of the house, Cllr Kieran Molloy (FF ).

“Any business in town will get more benefits from the [six] festivals planned for in the budget than any decrease in the rate could manage,” said former mayor, Cllr Paul Hogan (SF ). These festivals are: the People of the Year awards in April, All-Ireland Drama Festival in May, Triathlone (July 1-4 ), Euro-Festival (July 24-31 ), Community Games in August, and the 800th annivrsary of the Castle in October.

The town’s chief financial officer, Mr Aidan Balfe, pointed out to the meeting that a one per cent decrease in rates would only amount to a weekly reduction of less than €2 for 676 (or 87 per cent ) of the ratepayers. With the same decrease, only 11 ratepayers would have seen a reduction of more than €10 per week.

As it stands on the national league table of 49 town councils, Athlone’s rate puts the town in 36th place.

Appreciation of the rate has also diminished over the last number of years. In 2008, the rate rose by four per cent, in 2009 it rose by just one per cent, and this year sees a zero per cent rise.

The total amount of rates raised from the businesses of the town is just under €5m, and equates to 42 per cent of the town council’s income.

The other major income for the town is from central Government, and this €2.9m grant accounts for 25 per cent of the town’s budget.

The largest cost to Athlone is for salaries, wages and pensions and this is expected to cost €3.8m this year. Though this is one third of the town’s expenditure, it is down €215,000 from last year after the payroll cuts applied through the national budget.

The end of municipal waste collection has eliminated the losses connected with such a service and will see the town council accrue savings of around €200,000 in this calendar year.

Another local benefit from the enactment of national laws has been the Non-Principal Private Residence (NPPR ) levy, or second home tax, which has added €360,000 to Athlone’s coffers.

Parking fees continue to be a major income for the town and are expected to contribute five per cent (€550,000 ) of the total budget in 2010.

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