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Rates collection falls below acceptable level

RATE payers in the town have been urged to pay up if they can, amid warnings a reduction in the amount of money collected next year by Ennis Town Council could result in a cut in services.
At this week’s annual budget meeting of Ennis Town Council, it emerged that 60% of commercial rates were collected last year. Councillors were told between 85% and 90% of rates would need to be collected in 2012 for the council to balance its budget.
At the meeting it was agreed, amongst other measures, to maintain parking charges at their current level of €1.30 and commercial rates at the level adopted in 2009 of €65.45.
Town manager Ger Dollard described this year’s budget as “difficult” adding “we have made choices we think are right for Ennis and the future”.
He said the local authority is “hugely conscious of the issues out there and the issues facing the commercial sector and the need to support economic activity and the community”. He emphasised that reductions in expenditure “have not been taken lightly”.  And he stated that the €100 household charge has “no impact” on the town’s budget.
Speaking about the decision to maintain the current level of commercial rates, he outlined that the number of vacant properties in the town is a cause for concern.
Mr Dollard said the current level of rate collection falls “below what is considered acceptable”.
He pointed out that rates account for almost half of the council’s income and the amount collected has a “serious impact on the services we provide”.
Councillor Brian Meaney criticised a circular received from the Minister for the Environment urging councillors to exercise “restraint” in striking rates.
“This local authority has always provided restraint when it comes to setting rates, we don’t need direction from the department. I would have loved to see the minister direct us to reduce the rates but also give us the means by which to fund services but he has not done that,” said Councillor Meaney.
The councillor asked if there was a risk in assuming the amount of income to be received by the council this year. “Last year, there was 60% of the rates collected and there is speculation that 2012 will be a lot more challenging in terms of the domestic economic climate,” he said. He stressed that if there is a significant reduction in funding “where will the first axe fall?”
Mr Dollard responded, “If we find ourselves in serious difficulty, the cutbacks will have to be across the board”.
However, Mr Dollard insisted that while rate collection was of serious concern, there is no need for panic and that the budget is expected to have a surplus.
Councillor Tommy Brennan asked if all of the rates had been collected could the council have reduced the rate for this year. He was informed this was the case.
“There is only so much we can do if we don’t get the rates in. I would appeal to rate payers if they can afford it at all to pay for the service they are getting,” said Councillor Brennan.
Outlining the preparation of the budget, Mr Dollard commented, “The financial environment within which the budget must be prepared remains constrained and the local authority finds itself in a situation where expenditure demands are increasing and income sources are under severe pressure”.
However, he added, “Ennis Town Council continues to strive to promote and facilitate economic activity and the wider marketing and promotion of the town to support and sustain enterprises and economic activity. Through the various programmes, the level of expenditure incurred can act as a catalyst for further investment and economic activity in a number of areas.”
The budget for 2012 will see an overall expenditure by the council of  €12,166,958. The council envisages income of €12,166,958. This includes €1,701,714 from the Local Government Fund, down almost 9% on last year’s amount representing a reduction of €168,734.
The council is primarily dependent on income from grants, rates and parking charges. According to Mr Dollard, “All three sources have been under sustained pressure since the economic decline commenced in 2009”.
He outlined the council has “strongly focused on all areas of expenditure and has secured reductions and efficiencies wherever possible”.
“The severe reductions being experienced in funding allocations, together with the necessity to not impose additional costs on the commercial rate payer or domestic householder, results in savings having to be generated through a reduction in many of the mainstream service areas. Notwithstanding these reductions, the overall budget does incorporate a very challenging and extensive programme of works.”
“It is vitally important, in times of reducing resources, that all parties work together in a collaborative way to achieve the best outcomes for the town of Ennis. This approach will serve to achieve the maximum benefit form the overall resources that exist,” he concluded.

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