The 2014 changes to local government will see the beginning of a move to harmonise rates across the county, but councillors fear that it will have a negative impact on business people.
Local authorities will set their rates as usual next month for 2014 but after that, when Athlone and Mullingar town councils become defunct, moves will begin to bring the same rate to all businesses across Westmeath.
Cllr Aidan Davitt told the Mullingar area committee’s November meeting, last week, that balancing rates between Athlone, Mullingar, and smaller areas like Delvin and Castlepollard will see rates go up.
He said the new rule will “inflict a lot of hardship, especially in rural areas like Castlepollard and Delvin which are not comparable with Athlone and Mullingar”.
The new rules also mean that firms which go out of business after they have paid a year’s rates will only get half of their unused rates back. They currently get a full refund in Westmeath.
“This is very negative, extremely negative,” Cllr Davitt said. “Times are hard enough without having to deal with this.”
He described the move as “extremely anti-business” and said it will cost jobs and make people think twice about how and when they pay their rates.
He called on the Government to reverse the plan.
Director of services David Hogan said it’s up to elected members to set the rates, and couldn’t answer Cllr Ken Glynn’s question about whether there is any indication that rates will indeed rise.
He said a single ARV or Annual Rate of Valuation has to be imposed across the county and from Mullingar’s point of view this will mean a small adjustment.
However, he didn’t say in which direction the adjustment will be.
The council has 10 years to complete the alignment of rates across the county but Cllr Davitt said the only way that the top 5 per cent of businesses can continue to pay 90 per cent of the rates is if the rates increase for those outside Athlone where he says there is a “superior” rate which authorities in Athlone won’t want to lose.
“Anyone who thinks it won’t go up is daydreaming,” he concluded, calling it a business rather than a political problem.
The issue is to be referred to the Corporate Policy Group with a view to them writing to the Minister about reviewing the 50 per cent vacancy refund.