'Dear Taoiseach' - Offaly councillor writes to Leo to request action on rates
Independent Offaly councillor Sean O'Brien has sent a letter to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week to raise the issue of commercial rates impacting closed and struggling businesses.
In his letter, Sean says: "Local Authorities, particularly rural Local Authorities, face serious funding issues as a result of the closedown of businesses due to Covid-19.
"It was recently announced that Commercial Rates would be deferred for the months of March, April and May 2020, but this
is of little value as these businesses will not have cash flow to pay these Rates when they re-open. This will result initially in a serious shortfall in income for Local Authorities.
"Depending on the length of time businesses will remain closed many will not re-open at all and this will result in further decline in income. Some businesses are reporting a major decline in business and are applying for a reduction in Rates comparable to their decline in business.
"In Offaly, we have specific issues which will impact on Commercial Rates. West Offaly Power, which pays an annual Commercial Rate of €2.4m, is reporting production at 20% due to a reduction in demand for electricity and is seeking a reduction in its Rates bill to reflect this; this plant is due to close in December 2020.
"Bord Na Mona has announced serious job losses and this will also result in a reduction of their Rates contribution. In Offaly, we have traditionally had a poor Rates base and the problems associated with Covid-19 are likely to have a serious impact on our income from Rates which could result in a major difficulty in delivering services and retaining staff. Our Commercial Rates shortfall this year could be in the order of €6m. I am thus asking that a Commercial Rates Support Programme be considered an essential element of the new Programme for Government."
Cllr O'Brien continued: "The measures to combat Covid-19 could have a devastating impact on rural Ireland. Many retail, hospitality and small commercial businesses have been struggling due to the flight of the population to the bigger urban centres. The possible closure of these businesses would have a serious impact on life in rural areas and lead to further decline.
"It will thus be necessary to introduce a Rural Regeneration Fund to assist existing businesses and to encourage others to open new businesses. Many workers from rural areas travel to Dublin and other cities every day to work. Thankfully some have managed to work remotely during these times; this new way of working has to be encouraged as it has many benefits
including reduction in Carbon Emissions, better work/life balance, reduction in travel congestion and better value for businesses due to lower property costs in rural areas.
"I would ask you to give these matters serious consideration during your discussions on the new Programme for Government as the issue of Local Government financing and the challenges facing rural Ireland are real and immediate."