City Hall takes rate defaulters to court

A hard line is being taken on businesses in the city which are not paying rates as the cash-strapped Galway City Council continues to struggle to collect money owed.

As of December 31 2011, more than €16 million is owed to the council in unpaid rates, resulting in just a 62 per cent collection rate for the year.

Rates totalling €4.7 million were also written off in 2011 in respect of vacant premises, exemptions for charities, educational and arts groups, and also due to liquidated companies.

Director of finance Edel McCormack said: “The current economic situation has had an impact on the budget. The city is dependent on income from rates.”

According to Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane, a practising solicitor: “The civil lists are inundated with arrears of rates.”

Director McCormack said: “Legal action is our last resort. It is very costly and time consuming,” stressing that there are a number of reasonable steps and payment plans that businesses can avail of.

“We have over 80 shops closed in the city,” said Independent councillor Declan McDonnell. “We are better off working with businesses and keeping them open and try to get rates in even if it takes two or three years. It would help enormously in running this city if we could collect rates on empty buildings.”

City manager Joe O’Neill said he is continuing to work on the anomaly that prevents the council from charging rents on vacant premises: “It is costing us €2 million a year and it is keeping rents high in the city as there is no incentive for landlords to fill buildings.”

Not only are business rates down, but it was also highlighted by the director of finance that parking fines and charges were also down in 2011 causing a “considerable shortfall” in the city’s income.

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