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Council owed €2.8m in traders’ rates

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ENNIS Town Council is owed over €2.8 million in commercial rates this year, according to figures provided at this month’s meeting of the local authority.
In response to a notice of motion submitted by Councillor Mary Howard requesting Ennis Town Council to report, in tabular form, the amount of monies collected from commercial rates for 2007, 2008, 2009 and up to the end of October 2010, town clerk Eddie Power confirmed €2,852,601 was owed in commercial rates on October 31.
The figure at the end of 2009 was €1,065,199, €468,362 at the end of 2008 and €294,952 at the end of 2007.
On the receipts side, the town council received rate payments of €3,572,752 so far this year, down over €400,00 on last year and down almost €600,000 when compared to 2007.
Ennis town manager Ger Dollard said while the council acknowledges the circumstances that are out there, “people need to understand that the council cannot continue services without that income”.
“We are quite happy to sit down with rate payers and discuss if they are having difficulty,” he added. He also commented that the council is very conscious of the difficult conditions that ratepayers and the general population are encountering in the current economic climate.
The town council will present its annual budget to members at a meeting next Monday evening. It is proposed to maintain the commercial rate for the town for the coming year at the level adopted in 2009, with the general rate on valuation proposed for 2011 of €65.45. The draft budget for 2011 proposes an expenditure of €12,059,170, which is a reduction in the amount provided for 2010 and a further reduction on the adopted 2009 budget. Mr Dollard said he is conscious of the necessity for the council to continue to support the social, economic and cultural development of the town and “a strong role by the council should be maintained in such difficult economic circumstances”.
“For that reason, I have maintained the contributions to various community groups, festivals and other events at 2010 levels to ensure that the level of activity currently undertaken can be continued. The provision for the county demand remains at similar level as in 2010,” he confirmed.
In the Ennis Town Council draft budget, Mr Dollard explained the economic and financial environment within which local authorities operate has changed significantly since the budget for 2010 was presented to council.
“Reductions in Local Government Fund and payroll reductions, which occurred after adoption of the 2010 budget, result in outturns for 2010 in many cases not being directly comparable within the budget adopted,” he commented.
He said that during 2009 and 2010, the council has made “strenuous” efforts to maintain all services at a reasonable level, taking account of reductions in staffing resources and levels of funding available.
“This objective has been very challenging in the wake of the various crises that Ennis had to address in the last 12 months, including the flooding crisis in November 2009, severe weather crises in January and November 2010 and water treatment issues in September 2010,” Mr Dollard explained.
He further stated it is indicated there will be a reduction of 10% on the 2010 local government allocation. An allocation of €2,028,372 is included on the income side of the budget. The town manager said in the unlikely event of a more favourable allocation, it is proposed to allocate any surplus arising to the roads programme for the coming year. The manager once again presented figures relating to the effective loss of some €150,000 as a result of the application of VAT to off-street car parking income.
“Arising from an EU judgement, the VAT treatment of local authorities changed significantly from July 1, 2010. From that date, certain areas of activity, where the local authority was providing a similar service to the private sector, became liable for VAT. The most significant area for Ennis Town Council at the present time is the income and expenditure associated with off-street car parking. The council has absorbed this cost in 2010 but is unable to carry the cost in 2011, as it represents an effective loss of income of some €150,000 for the council,” he said.
He added it is proposed to increase the hourly rate for car parking of €1.20 by 10 cent in 2011, which will partially offset the VAT liability. “The council will need to revisit the issue in the budget for 2012 to fully bridge the income loss in this area,” he commented.
Mr Dollard remarked the overall budget represents a “very significant investment in the town”.
“There is significant expenditure in all divisions, most notably in the areas of housing, road transport and recreation and amenity. The overall budget incorporates a challenging and extensive programme of works,” he said.
The draft budget will be put before members of Ennis Town Council for consideration on Monday evening at 7pm.

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