A high profile campaign seeking the reduction of commercial rates in Tipperary Town failed after council members voted in favour of a budget that kept rates at the same level as this year.
Councillors, who had come under intense pressure from the business community in the build-up to the estimates meeting which was held last Thursday evening, voted by seven votes to two to adopt a budget for 2012.
A large group of business people with placards canvassed elected representatives on their way into the meeting.
After almost two hours of debate, the members, who had been asked by the business community to bring in a 10% rate cut to be achieved by a cut of €40,000 to housing maintenance, a cut of €30,000 to street cleaning and a cut of €30,000 to outdoor leisure expenditure, approved the budget.
Town Manager Clare Curley told the meeting that the rate was the fourth lowest in the country for a town council. The commercial rates in Tipperary Town had not been increased since 2008.
After the budget was passed, she accepted a request from the members that the free car parking in place on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas in the town be extended to be in place from December 18 to December 24.
Councillors Denis Leahy, who warned of a ‘revolution’, and Cllr. Brian Rafferty voted against the budget which was proposed by Cllr. Billy Bourke and seconded by Cllr. John Wallace. Councillors Bourke, Wallace, Devitt, Swords, Cramer, Halligan, and the Mayor Cllr. Finnan all voted in favour of the budget.
Members who voted for the budget said that they would have liked to be in a position to provide the business community with a cut in rates but felt that the economic circumstances and the reduction in funding from government did not allow them to take such a move.
Government funding to Tipp Town Council for 2012 was down €62,237 or 8.89% on the 2011 allocation.
The manager said she was acutely aware of the significant strain felt by all of the townspeople in such a difficult economic period and that in presenting the budget she had strove to maintain existing levels of service and employment levels.
Cllr. Denis Leahy told the meeting that there was a little revolution starting by people who were being hit time and time again and they were not going to take it any more.
“You will have civil unrest in the streets unless we get our act together very quickly” warned the independent councillor.
Cllr. Leahy said he had listened to the people outside the door. One businessman told him that his business was “hanging by a thread along wit the twenty jobs he was providing,”.
The publican said business people felt alienated and abandoned.
“Phil Hogan has taken the business people for granted. People are in trouble, people cannot take it any more. the ratepayers asked for a 10% reduction and got nothing. I feel we should have accommodated the people outside the door. We have to tell the government enough is enough,” said Cllr. Leahy.
Cllr. Billy Bourke said it was with a heavy heart that he voted for the estimates. He said councillors had been under pressure all week on the issue.
The Labour councillor said the small man and the business man were being screwed. He was not happy with the way his party was conducting itself. ”There is a revolt and it’s gathering momentum,” he said.
“The flak we got for the last week has been unbelievable. It’s not worth the hassle. It might be worth the hassle if I was getting a TD’s cheque. Minister Hogan should have been here tonight to listen to the people standing outside the door,” said Cllr. Bourke.
Cllr. Anna Tuohy Halligan said she appreciated the difficulties being faced by traders but could not agree with their suggestions forwarded to fund the 10% reduction in rates they wanted. Reduciing house maintenance would have a direct impact on council tenants who needed to have their houses maintained to a liveable standard, including proper heating, plumbing and house repairs. A reduction in street cleaning would not only have an impact on the appearance of the town but it would also impact on council staff and a reduction in outdoor leisure would impact on the progress made by the council in recent years with the Tipperary Hills and it would be a short sighted move.
Mayor Jacqui Finnan said the council was a large employer in the town, the staff were very important and they wanted to keep them.
“It’s a pity we cant do more but we can only work with the funding we get and we have to pay a price for that. I feel the protest is directed to the wrong place. This protest needs to be levelled at government. We need to protect our fire services, our street cleaning, the upkeep of the cemetery and all our other services,” she said.
Cllr. Mary Swords said she knew how the business people felt and if something could be done for them it would.
“I think the officials have been as fair as they could” she said.
Cllr. Larry Cramer said he was a member of the business community and would love to have been able to support them but he could not support a €40,000 cut in house maintenance or a cut in street cleaning. He could not understand why Cllr. Rafferty voted against the estimates as he was so involved in the Tidy Towns campaign.
Cllr. Ruairi Devitt said nobody doubted that the business community was feeling the pain but he could not justify a reduction in expenditure on house maintenance or street cleaning.
Cllr. Devitt said it would have been personally dishonest of him if he had to vote against the estimate and not put forward a proposal at the meeting where the money could be made up for a rates decrease.
Cllr. Brian Rafferty said cutbacks could be made. The business people of the town were suffering. He understood the business people would keep their campaign going for the next twelve months and it would continue in other towns as well.
“They are bringing the issue to central government. They are very aggrieved that the commercial sector are carrying the cost at too high a level,” he said.
Cllr. Rafferty said street cleaning was an issue he was well aware of as he was one of a group of volunteers that meet on Saturday morning to collect litter in the town.
“It has to be accepted that the cost of the delivery of services should be a cost to everybody in the community,” said Cllr. Rafferty.
The Mayor said she was shocked that Cllr. Rafferty should suggest a reduction in expenditure on street cleaning as he was so involved in the Tidy Towns.
“This from the same person who wanted to roof the town a couple of years ago,” said Cllr. Finnan.
The Manager said it was not physically or humanely possible to reduce the commercials rates. Funding of local government was a national issue. If there was scope to take 1% off the commercial rate it would have been done
Cllr. Devitt said it was important to let the truth about the meeting be known. The truth was that there was no concrete proposal put forward to show where the money could have been made up if the commercial rates were reduced.
A proposal that the free parking continue from December 18 to Christmas Eve was supported by the members and the proposal was accepted by the officials.