COMMERCIAL rates and car-parking charges have been frozen in the local authority’s plans for next year, with town manager Ger Dollard describing the preparation of Budget 2013 as “particularly difficult”.
Members of Ennis Town Council agreed to ratify the budget for the coming year at a recent meeting of the local authority. The commercial rate was retained at the level of 65.45 and the car-parking charge was kept at its present level.
Despite the financial constraints, the budget for 2013 plans an overall expenditure by the local authority of more than €12 million.
Town manager Ger Dollard commented, “The preparation of Budget 2013 has been particularly difficult, given the very constrained financial environment which exists. In previous budgets, the council has sought to retain charges at their present levels and effect the necessary budget adjustment through reduction in costs. This has been achieved through significant reductions in payroll and some reductions in funding allocations for work programmes. As the period of reduced resources continues, the budget for 2013 requires a much deeper level of cut than undertaken in previous years.”
Mr Dollard described the level of rate collection as the “primary financial concern of the council”. He outlined that the current year’s budget was constructed on the basis of achieving an income of €5.4m from commercial rates.
However he added, “The best financial projection at this point is that the overall rate collection for 2012 will be of the order of €4m. This includes some payment of arrears from previous years. The level of financial shortfall is significant and poses a major financial challenge for the council.”
He commented that the council has operated a flexible approach to commercial rate collection but that a “more aggressive approach” has been adopted in some cases.
“The council fully understands the issues that exist in the commercial environment and it is clear that there is a high level of vacancy, liquidation and business failures, which contribute to the low level of collection.
“However, the rates have been levied on the basis of the council spending the funds on other services and in the absence of such funds the only option available to the council is to reduce the level of services,” stated Mr Dollard.
The provision for irrecoverable rates has been increased by €87,700 in a bid to address shortfalls in budgeting rate income.
In relation to car-parking charges, Mr Dollard acknowledged the various representations made for a reduction in the level. He outlined that a reduction in the hourly rate of parking to €1 would require an additional €254,309 in income.
Mr Dollard commented, “The council has striven, through its recently adopted revised car-parking bylaws and through other measures such as parking incentives to create a customer-friendly, value-for-money parking offer in the town. These efforts will continue during 2013.
“It is proposed to further encourage the utilisation of car parks through the assigning of a special yearly permit for Cloughleigh car park on a trial basis.
“While a reduction in general car-parking charges may be desirable, it is not possible within the current financial framework.”
A number of areas of expenditure have experienced cuts in the budget. These include the revenue for housing repairs, which will be reduced by €30,000; a reduction in the council’s contribution to the Roads Programme and a reduction of €5,000 in the financial provision for Christmas lights.
However, efforts are continuing to be made by the local authority to promote economic activity in the town.
These include the provision of €15,000 towards the promotion of activities surrounding The Gathering including the upcoming Ennis-Phoenix Week.
A financial contribution of €12,500 being shared with Clare County Council is being made to the Ennis Innovate initiative, while the installation of a multi-use gym area is nearing completion in Tim Smythe Park.
According to Mr Dollard, “The council will continue to implement a range of marketing and promotional initiatives to assist in stimulating economic activity and the promoting and marketing of the town.”
Mr Dollard told the elected members prior to the adoption of the budget, “In framing this budget, the objective has been to achieve a balanced budget while at the same time maintaining essential services and promoting the town so that additional economic activity can be generated.
“The constraints being placed on the council are acute and when account is taken of commitments in relation to payroll, loan charges and the necessity to impose no increase in general charges, the scope for movement is very restricted.
“Notwithstanding these constraints, the overall budget does contain a very comprehensive works programme and overall spend of Ennis Town Council of €12m.”
He concluded, “The objective for 2013 is to continue to stretch resources as far as possible and to participate, in so far as we can, in whatever initiatives will assist in furthering the progress of Ennis in the areas of economic, social and cultural development.”