LIMERICK councillors have vowed to block any attempts to increase the commercial rate.
There are growing concerns among councillors that finance bosses at the local authority will propose in the annual Book of Estimates that the commercial rate – a property based charge levied on business owners – should rise. Although the executive proposes a set of figures, it is the role of councillors to agree a budget.
At present, the charge stands at 0.241 per rate of valuation. This represented a freeze for businesses in the former county area following the merger, but a 10% drop for city traders, after an equalisation process.
Any increase in the commercial rate would come as a blow to traders who have no doubt struggled through the recession.
But at a behind-closed-doors budget briefing, councillors claimed that outgoing finance boss Tom Gilligan intimated the need for an increase in the rate.
“The message that was coming out was how strapped for money we are, and it was intimated commercial rates would have to go up,” said metropolitan district mayor Jerry O’Dea.
The mayor said increasing the rate would be a “retrograde step”.
Any increase, he said, would “send out completely the wrong message”.
Cllr O’Dea, Cllr James Collins and Cllr Maurice Quinlivan told the Limerick Leader they would oppose any rise in the rate.
Cllr Collins said be believes the executive were “basically scaremongering”.
“They were saying that although the council’s income has stayed the same over the last year, the expenses have gone up. The main expenses rising are insurance, payroll costs – even though the number of people in the council has gone down – and loan repayments,” Cllr Collins said. The Fianna Fail councillor claimed that the meeting was “a bit of a bluff”, and he urged fellow councillors to keep their nerve, and insist on a commercial rates freeze or cut.
“Business people pay their rates for a service to be provided. Just because the executive has overspent, why should it fall back on the commercial rate payers to fill the gap again,” asked Cllr Collins, who himself pays a rate through his pub in Dooradoyle.
Sinn Fein leader Cllr Quinlivan said: “I do understand people are struggling, so I would not be rushing to increase rates at the moment. But we do need to improve public services, and I think there is a huge issue in the metropolitan area where a large number of outstanding rates need to be collected. These are rates owed by profitable businesses.”
At a full council meeting, Cllr Collins seized on a motion where the budget was mentioned to force the executive to promise its Book of Estimates will show no increase in the rate.
His motion, seconded by Cllr O’Dea, was declared out of order by Mayor Liam Galvin.
A council spokesperson said commercial rates represent a “key component” of its income stream, with the income in 2015 so far being €52.9m. This represents 34% of the total revenue.
They said any decision to alter the rate will be taken by members at the budget meeting on November 20.