Despite its efficient work at collecting overdue rates, councillors at this week’s Athlone Town Council meeting were furious that an outside agency is being used to get in the funds.
The issue came to light during a presentation by Aidan Bass, finance administrative officer, on the six monthly financial review of the council.
Mr Bass explained that a credit management company was employed this summer because of the low level of commercial rates being paid by businesses in the town. Members were told that the council was up to €50,000 worse off in terms of rates collected than budgeted for by the end of June. However, thanks, in part, to the help of the credit management company they were able to recover €30,000 of this loss by August.
Despite the good financial news, Cllr Mark Cooney raised the issue of the credit management company being brought in. “I have some concerns about the credit management company. People are being put out, and the tone of the letter isn’t very nice. Businesses are trying to make ends meet,” he said.
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said that the debt collecting had to stop. “Threatening people down the phone and going to Carlow to get the money collectors. We have people we can send out to businesses,” he explained.
Cllr Moran added that he wasn’t saying the businesses should walk away from debt, but that the council should reassess their need to hire a debt collecting agency. Cllr Moran was particularly annoyed that an agency from Carlow had to be employed by Athlone Town Council for the job. Cllr Gabrielle McFadden also raised this issue, asking how much the council paid the credit management company and whether or not it would be possible to employ someone in Athlone Town Council to collect debt.
Director of services Hugh O’Reilly explained that the credit management company was a new departure for the council but is something that is used by practically all local authorities. “We are competing for limited income. It was only in the very worst cases that we used the credit management company,” he explained.
Mr Bass added that unfortunately the old method of debt collecting was no longer working, ie sending a council employee to local businesses. “Customers had ample opportunity to deal with the council. If the customer makes an offer to the credit management company they will check with us before accepting it,” he said.