There are fears that commercial rates will increase across the county after the local government reforms come into effect in June.
Businesses in Athlone currently pay higher rates than in the rest of the county, and these rates will have to be “harmonised”, according to a council spokesperson.
Outlining some of the changes due to come into effect on June 1, director of services Hugh O’Reilly pointed out that the Athlone Town Council rate is currently set at 59.51 while the Westmeath County Council rate is lower at 52.27.
At present Athlone Town Council has the authority to set its own rates; however under the new system the county council will set rates for the whole county.
Cllr Aidan Davitt was worried that the “harmonisation of rates” would result in an increase across the county.
“Westmeath County Council pay a lower rate than Athlone Town Council - does this mean for Mullingar and north Westmeath there will be an increase in rates?” he asked.
However he came under fire from Cllr Colm Arthur who was adamant that councillors would not allow such an increase: “It is irresponsible for a councillor to suggest a rates increase. I would like to reassure the business community that we will not be increasing rates,” he said.
County manager Pat Gallagher said the process of fixing rates had already been set in motion with a 2 per cent reduction in the Athlone rate.
“This task is not new for local authorities, there is a tried and tested process there,” he added.
There was also concern among councillors that the money raised in each area through commercial rates and parking would not now be ringfenced for that area.
“If funding all goes into one pot, what assurances can you give that money raised in the south of the county will be maintained for that area of the county?” asked Cllr Mark Cooney.