Claims of 'browbeating' as Longford councillors agree to five per cent rates increase

Claims of 'browbeating' as Longford councillors agree to five per cent rates increase

Updated: 4 days, 12 hours, 48 minutes, 50 seconds ago

Longford businesses are facing a five per cent increase in commercial rates next year following a second local authority budget meeting in four days.

Local politicians agreed to the increase after a recommendation by the county council's top table for a ten per cent hike was rejected out of hand on Monday.

That came after a proposal for the five per cent rise was seconded by Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock and put to the floor for a vote.

The vote, which was carried by a ten votes to six majority, saw a number of councillors from the two main government parties adopt differing views on how best to plug a €620,000 hole in the local authority's budgetary reserves for the forthcoming year.

In suggesting a number of modest financial tweaks affecting the council's seven main service divisions, Cllr Murray said the five per cent rates increase would be offset by a business support scheme that almost 85 per cent of ratepayers could avail of in order to minimise their overall exposure to the rates hike.

"I did say a ten per cent increase on rates on Monday was entirely unpalatable in the current climate with businesses already struggling with day to day running costs," he said.

"However, we do have a €620,000 hole in the budget we have to find and there has to be a bit of give and take.

"The five per cent increase with the scheme will provide some bit of a cushion to 85 per cent almost of the ratepayers, about 1,500 ratepayers and around 1,200 will be able to avail of this scheme.

"It was a very hard decision to make and to reach over the last few days. We are making one that is unpalatable for some people and it will protect other ratepayers but on the whole I think it is the right decision to make in order for us as a local authority to progress with the projects we have as a priority."

Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock said the past four days had been a "very sobering experience" for both himself and his fellow elected members, but said the rise, while unappealing, was a measure which was required in order to safeguard the county's ongoing regeneration drive.

"We can't always be the kids of summer, we have to look at the reality of the situation and what, we as a local authority are facing," he said.

"We also have an obligation to the people at large and the people we represent to make sure key frontline services are protected."

Not for the first time, Cllr Warnock directed his ire at government bosses over how local authority's like Longford have been forced to stomach much of the spiralling energy price hikes which have come from inflationary pressures and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In opposing the move and tabling a counter motion of his own for rates to remain frozen, Cllr Seamus Butler launched a stinging attack on the council's executive, accusing them of having effectively "bullied" him into agreeing to a rates rise.

"I am too long in the tooth to be manipulated by anybody," saying there had also been an element of "browbeating" in trying to force his hand to a compromise.

Cllr Butler also said, he as a former national and local leader of business, "could not look his colleagues in the eye" by agreeing to any form of a rates increase.

Cllr Paraic Brady, who voted in favour, of a rates increase, asked his Fianna Fáil counterpart to withdraw his remarks, a request which went unheeded.

Fine Gael Cllr Gerry Hagan, adopted a similar stance to Cllr Butler and said the rise would "send a shiver down the spine of ratepayers".

"I don't say that lightly either," he said.

"Businesses, though, over the past three years, have been struggling first with Brexit, then Covid and now the Ukrainian war which have skyrocketed prices."

The Longford Munciipal District Cathaoirleach said the ongoing and drawn out revamp of the Ballinalee Road, which has been beset by a seven month delay was, in his view, a rate increase in its own right.

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