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Pat Dowling, CEO Clare County Council.

Clare Council rates arrears climbs €1.6m to €11.6m


Council finances holding steady despite impact of Covid-19 on its income streams

THE total arrears in commercial rates owed to Clare County Council increased by almost €1.6 million to under €11.6 million last December, a new report has revealed.
The total amount of uncollected rates on December 31, 2020 was €11.577 million, according to a report on the council’s unaudited annual financial statement for the year ended December 31, 2020.
The report, which will be presented to councillors at the May local authority, stated the opening arrears on January 1, 2020 was €10,043,132 and the rates’ bill issued for 2020 was €44,715,390.
Official figures showed the amounts collected, vacant or written off came to €29,605,485, while the Covid-19 commercial rates waiver was €13,674,497.
Arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of restrictions on businesses, the Council implemented a range of business supports for customers.
These supports included €39.06 million in the restart grant, restart grant plus, Local Enterprise Office business supports and the commercial rates waiver for nine months.
The Council also stood downthe continuation of and commencement of legal proceedings where there was little or no engagement in meaningful discussions by the customer with the Council.
The report stated every effort will be made to accommodate customers in payment plans when the local economy returns after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
The accounts include €0.9 million in the year end uncollected balance that refers to accounts that are in liquidation/receivership or closed accounts.
Between January and March 2021, €1 million has been received in respect of uncollected prior years’ rates. Cash flow in respect of the entire rate book continues to be adversely impacted due to Covid-19 and the predicted impact across the entire rate book remains at 2020 projections of €15 million, excluding vacant properties.
There are 3,783 active accounts for 2020. About 94% or €10.8 million of the balance outstanding can be accounted for in 20% or 809 customers.
The Council is acutely aware of the severe challenges facing business and will continue to implement national policy and supports in this area.
The report outlined that actual cash collected was €25.7 million in the year, a reduction of €13 million on that collected in the previous year, mitigated by central government funding of nine months’ commercial waiver of €13.7 million. This government funding enabled the Council to continue to meet its services in line with the 2020 Budget.
Actual outstanding commercial rates has increased by more than €1.5 million with €600,000 of this received in early January 2021; the remaining increase is explained by the level of hospitality industries in Clare and part of 2020 remaining due and payable in some cases.
It is important to note there are a large number of customers whose business has not been impacted by Covid-19 and the Council will continue to engage with these customers on their payment of commercial rates.
The collection processes including legal proceedings are no longer being stood down but implemented on a case-by-case basis where there is no meaningful engagement from the customer.
During 2020, a combined total of €215.4 million was spent in the revenue and capital account, excluding transfers, by the Council in delivering services and enhancing infrastructure.
The report outlined the Council has recorded a near break even financial result for the year after the funding of revenue and own resource funding of committed capital projects is considered.
Overall expenditure against revenue budgets in 2020 amounted to €161.2 million, while total income was €161.5 million.
The result for the year on the Council’s income and expenditure account before the amortisation of the corporate loan is a loss of €0.2 million compared to the adopted budget.
When the amortisation of the corporate loan of €0.45 million is included, the result is €0.26 million positive for the year.
Chief executive, Pat Dowling stated this result is a positive outcome following the year the authority has experienced considering its income sources were severely impacted and additional expenditure was incurred in responding to the pandemic and supporting the business community, Clare residents and visitors.
Total expenditure in development management was €14.3 million greater than budget, while income was €9.8 million greater than budget, resulting in a net expenditure of €4.6 million over budget.
There was a €6.9 million loss of income from the Cliffs of Moher in 2020 compared to the budget.
The deferral of capital projects at the Cliffs and the recovery of the balance of lost income from central government has resulted in no impact on the authority’s budget.

By Dan Danaher

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