‘I’VE NEVER SEEN AN AUDIENCE SO QUIET... I ASSUME THEY ARE, LIKE ME, SHOCKED’
A NUMBER OF New Ross businesspeople spoke up at the meeting, expressing grave concern about the effects the rates hike will have on the town.
Owner of the Cracked Teapot cafe on Quay Street, Tina Saridakis said: ‘Everything that we heard tonight is really encouraging, but for the moment, with the long winter months ahead and the very short footfall on our streets, it will be very difficult to pay extra rates. Even to find (money for) rates at the moment is very difficult, not to mention finding money for all the other overheads.’
Ms Saradakis said the town is very quiet from October until March.
Head of Finance with Wexford County Council Annette O’Neill said the body’s credit control team work closely with business owners who are finding it difficult to pay their rates.
She said a payment plan can be agreed where the majority of money owed for rates can be paid during the busier summer season.
‘We work with rate payers who want to pay us and we go very hard after those who defiantly ignore us.’
Ms Saradakis said two businesses have relocated from her street in recent weeks.
‘We will have two vacant shops beside us and an increase in rates will put people off opening up. Are there incentives for people using properties that are closed as a lot of businesses have gone from the town?’
Director of Services for Economic Development Tony Larkin said New Ross has suffered more than most areas.
He said rates are an essential part of the council’s income which is needed to drive an ambitious programme for the town and area.
‘I am in the council 37 years and in all that time we have been waiting for someone else to fix our problems. Waiting for the IDA, for Fáilte Ireland, for a minister. To some extent Wexford has been lagging behind in terms of employment and wages, especially. Realistically every business has been affected.’
He said the council has a specific scheme designed to bring properties which have been vacant for more than one year back into use. Under the scheme 75 per cent of the fit out costs can be used as a rebate in year one and 50 and 25 per cent can be deducted in year two and year three.
New Ross District Director Eamonn Hore said North Street and John Street are being developed and with work ongoing on developing Goat Hill and the High Hill site, along with tourism trails, the Quay Street area will see a marked increase in footfall.
Ray Lawlor of Lawlor’s Menswear on North Street said: ‘I
have never seen an audience so quiet and timid. I am assuming they are like me, shocked. I assumed we were going to get an information meeting and now it appears we are hear to learn the council are going to increase the harmonisation process and the rates at the same time.’
He asked if councillors will be voting on the rates increase and on completing the rates harmonisation process in 2018 and how long the 15 per cent rates reduction scheme will be in place. He also asked what time of year the rates have to be paid.
Ms O’Neill said the 15 per cent will have to be phased back to the general Rates Incentive Scheme over a number of years.
‘It will be a decision of the councillors in every budget year.’
She said: ‘ The deadline for the current Rates Incentive scheme is April and October, depending on the payment method, but we may consider a third date for ratepayers affected by harmonisation. We will work with the rate payers in New Ross to get this across the line.’
Cllr Michael Sheehan said the enterprise centre will create between 50 and 70 jobs.
‘These people will have to go somewhere to eat and to shop. I think it will be a fantastic facility to have on that side of the town. No other area can harmonise their rates unless we all harmonise together. The inflow of rates coming in will be greater from other areas than what is generated here so rate payers from Wexford, Enniscorthy and Gorey will bring benefit to here.’
He said charity shops and other businesses do not have to pay rates, adding that this is unfair on rate paying businesses in the area.
‘You are paying rates and they are not. If someone has the courage to open a business we should do everything we can to ensure that minimum barriers are there. We need to make that jump and look at all of the property put in front of us. The bulk of these projects will be completed by 2019. Other local authorities are willing to put the money in, in Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford. We don’t have the luxury of sitting by and hoping that everything will go well.’
Cllr Oisin O’Connell suggested that the council bring the Rates Incentive Scheme up to 18 per cent.
Ms O’Neill said: ‘15 per cent would be palatable for the rate payers and also benefical for the council.’
Cathaoirleach of New Ross Municipal District Cllr Willie Fitzharris said: ‘No elected official wants to put rates on people but when we studied it and as elected members we have a duty to progress industry and commerce in the New Ross district and without money we cannot do that.’
Director of Services for Economic Development Tony Larkin said the council CEO Tom Enright has committed to not increasing rates in 2019.
Mr Larkin said the council is in the middle of a housing crisis so more money is being devoted to this area also.
Cllr Michael Whelan said the plans for the New Ross area look great. ‘It would be great to have the money to do this,’ he said.
Cllr John Fleming said the big problem for local businesses is that the economic recovery has not reached the area.
‘We have felt no bounce here. The whole area is in transition. We’re getting roads and gas but it seems the shops are not getting the benefit.’
The fact that rates and property tax rates are rising further exacerbates matters for business owners, he said.
‘We need to get your views. Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?’
Chamber of Commerce President John McSweeney said some businesses will have to look at their own busines model.
‘Ask yourselves “What have we been doing” and if we have been doing the same thing year on year and we are getting the same results - it’s time to look inside and say maybe my business model isn’t correct. Look at my pricing, my customer service etc.’
He said businesses are opening in New Ross and everyone would love to see changes happen at a faster pace, adding, ‘ but it’s improving and there will be further improvememnts in less than 18 months and that will benefit businesses in New Ross. You may have to make these changes so you are best placed to benefit your business.’
Tony Larkin, director of services with Wexford County Council (far right), addressing the attendance at the rates information evening at the Dunbrody Centre, New Ross.