Cashel council accused of ‘choking business’ as Christmas lights row flares up

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

The Town Council in Cashel has been accused of “choking businesses out of existence”.

The claim was made by Mike Ryan, president of Cashel Chamber of Commerce, who said that four businesses in the town had closed since Christmas.

He made his remarks as a war of words broke out between the Council and the Chamber of Commerce over Cashel’s Christmas lights.

Speaking at the previous week’s Council meeting, Cllr. Joe Moloney described the lights as “the worst in the world”, while other councillors also voiced their criticism.

However in a strong response the Chamber of Commerce president said - “I agree the lights are in a terrible state but you get what you pay for. We’re doing the best we can with the lights on a very small budget”.

He said that instead of criticising the chamber, the Council should support them and help businesses while developing the town in a meaningful way, which would in turn create employment.

The Council should come up with clear policies and a clearer approach to do that.

“Rather than knocking voluntary groups such as the chamber for trying to do their best they should row in behind them”.

The chamber president said the councillors who were critical of the Christmas display hadn’t educated themselves on the background of the lights and were only concerned about press coverage.

Mr. Ryan said the chamber didn’t have the funding to upgrade or maintain the lights, mainly due to their very poor financial support from the Council, and the fact that not every business subscribed to the cost.

While the Council had introduced a scheme to encourage new businesses to occupy vacant retail units on Main Street, he said there was no similar incentive for existing businesses. He said that commercial rates had been frozen for the fourth year running when they should have been reduced, and because of that the Council was “choking businesses out of existence”.

Commercial rates were the biggest single source of income for the Council, even larger than the local government grant. But when businesses closed it reduced the amount of revenue that the Council could generate from rates.

Mr. Ryan said the chamber had met with the Council three years ago to try and reduce the cost of the Christmas lights. The chamber was starting to find it difficult at that stage to raise money from businesses in the town for the lights because the recession was starting to bite. Traders were under pressure from high commercial rates and felt they were being asked to pay the same cost twice.

The chamber asked the Council to pay for a new catenary (or flexible) system for the lights, so they could be erected quicker and wouldn’t blow as many fuses. This would also have enabled the lights to have been left up all year round for the town’s festivals.

However Mr. Ryan said the Council had refused those proposals.

He also said that in 2008 the chamber had bought Eco lights that have saved the Council €3,700 per year in its electricity bill, which represented a saving of €15,000 over four years.

Despite this saving he said the Council had reduced its subvention to the chamber for the Christmas lights each year, and its allocation of €4,500 (which was only €800 in real terms because of the saving on its electricity bill) only covered 50% of the cost.

Mr. Ryan said the overhaul and maintenance programme needed for the lights would cost between €7,000 and €8,000. Hard-pressed businesses were already finding it difficult to pay commercial rates, utility costs, water charges, increased VAT rates, as well as a hike in septic tank charges for some traders, and on top of that they were being asked to pay more money to maintain the Christmas lights.

Disputing Council Manager Sean Keating’s claim that the Council paid for the lights on the town centre plaza, Mr. Ryan said that the chamber paid for all Christmas lights in the town.

He also said that the number of councillors in the town should be reduced in line with proposals to cut the number of TDs and Senators. He said that 9 councillors was too many to cater for 2,517 people in the urban area.