CALLS for Ennis Town Council to flush its contract with the operators of the town’s superloos have been poo-poo’d by the local authority. At this week’s meeting of Ennis Town Council, the €70,000 cost for the facilities was called into question, with one councillor suggesting the local authority construct its own public convenience.
According to Councillor Paul O’Shea, the cost of providing the superloos is “extortionate”. “Why can’t we have traditional public toilets.
“There are lots of unemployed people out there who would gladly be employed to work there. With a cost of €70,000, we need to go back to the drawing board.”
The matter was initially raised by Councillor Brian Meaney as the council discussed its finances for 2012.
He asked if it was time to renegotiate the contract with the service providers. Councillor Peter Considine recalled that the old public toilets in the town had to be locked up. “They were in a disgraceful condition, it was a public health issue. The toilets we have now are perfectly useable at all times.”
Town manager, Ger Dollard told the meeting that, from a financial point of view, building public toilets wouldn’t make sense.
He added that the council is satisfied that the noise warning system that somebody is staying longer than they should is adequate and the operators have been asked to make a more visual warning also.
“If we were to build a toilet, we would have to have the staff to maintain it and we wouldn’t have a 24-hour service.
“It would probably cost as much as what we have now. The old ones just don’t work, people expect a high standard and not the old idea of building a toilet block that could be a haven for anti-social behaviour,” he said.
The discussion on the town’s finances also heard that the temporary uncollectable rates for Ennis Town Council as of May 28 of this year stands at €2,887,390, or 34.64% of the rate demand. Mr Dollard stated that the level of rate collection in the town is a concern. He insisted that every effort is being made to recover monies, including the issuing of court summonses and publication of judgements.
Figures released by the local authority show that as of December 31, 2012, the temporary uncollectable rates balance stood at €3,379,601, representing 40.54% of the rate demand for 2012.
However, €492,210 has been collected in rates arrears to May 28 of this year. Town clerk Leonard Cleary outlined, “The temporary uncollectable balance is made up of a number of accounts, each with considerable balances owing.”
According to Mr Dollard, the annual financial statement of the council, which was presented at the meeting, shows that “by and large it has been a good year”, with expenditure of over €12 million. He outlined that there have been reductions in pay and operational costs by the council. However, he added that there was “concern” about the level of rate collection and the level of vacant properties in the town.
He stated that the council has been successful in obtaining judgements in the courts and in certain cases, these judgements have been published, with Mr Dollard warning “this will continue”.
He outlined that while the council is concious of the difficulties facing businesses, the level of rate collection has an effect on the ability to provide services.
Mr Cleary added, “Ennis Town Council is making every effort to recover these monies by agreeing payment plans to allow people to make phased payment or by proceeding through the appropriate legal channels, including service of court summonses.
“It should be noted also that a number of companies who owe rates have gone into liquidation over the last number of years.
Ennis Town Council must await the decisions of liquidators to establish the amount of outstanding rates that will be recovered from these companies.”
The figures also show that in 2012, Ennis Town Council had irrecoverable rates of €1,001,939, representing 12.02% of the rate demand for 2012. In 2011, the irrecoverable rates were almost half that, at €509,755 or 6.99% of the demand.
These irrecoverable rates related to rates which were not legally collectable, such as for demolished or vacant properties, charitable organisations or properties occupied by the HSE.
Mr Cleary outlined, “Due to the current economic climate, ratepayers are unable to pay rates on vacant properties and claim back as a rates refund in the following year. In these cases, rates on vacant properties were written off as irrecoverable and this explains the increase in irrecoverable rates from 2011.
At the meeting, Councillor Johnny Flynn proposed that the council write to Minister Phil Hogan outlining Ennis Town Council’s success in consistently achieving a balanced budget.
With the upcoming shake-up of local authorities, Councillor Flynn is calling on the minister to create an Ennis Municipal District Council with the ability to strike its own rate and have its own budget.
While Councillor Brian Meaney outlined the “significant potential risk” to businesses, as the rates of Clare County Council are 11% higher than those of the town council.
“I don’t think there is any appetite for an increase in rates but the decision could be taken out of our hands. This is something we need clarity on and the business people need clarity on to plan for the future,” he said.