By Sinéad Goldsboro
The budget for Tipperary Town Council was approved at a meeting last Thursday night in Dan Breen House despite a protest held outside by Tipperary Town Traders and Employers for Affordable Rates. The budget was passed by a majority of 7-2. The Protesters were calling for a 10% reduction in Council rates, which they say are crippling them financially and affecting their business. All of the Councillors spoke of their disappointment of how they could not find a way to reduce the rates.
The Town Manager, Clare Curley, expressed how difficult the budget was to prepare and what a difficult job it was for her and the staff of the council, whom she praised for all their hard work. She also spoke of the reduction from the Local government Fund of -8.98% (€62,237) and how all areas were affected. In preparing the budget, she said that the Council tried to be “as fair as possible to all sectors”. She also said that the 2% VAT increase would not be passed on to parking in the town and that the Council would absorb that cost.
The Affordable Rates group had submitted a request of 10% drop in rate costs which they believed would impact by a 2.5% reduction in the budget. The group made suggestions to reduce money spend in a number of sectors including home maintenance, street cleaning and outdoor leisure facilities.
All of the Councillors expressed their disappointment that a rate reduction could not be introduced. Cllr Tuohy-Halligan said that “since I received a copy of budget I have gone through it with a fine tooth-comb” but she could not see where a cut could be made to introduce cheaper rates. She was fully aware of the situation that local businesses found themselves in these difficult times and also the fact that the people of Tipperary Town are under financial pressure and are not able to spend as much as they could in the past. She said that the suggested reductions by the Tipperary Town Traders and Employers for Affordable Rates Group in certain sectors in order to introduce a rate cut would have a negative effect as the housing maintenance would affect older people and single parents. She said a cut to the street cleaning budget would affect the over all appearance of the town along with their bid in Tidy Town competitions and to attract tourists. Cllr Tuohy-Halligan thanked the Town Council for providing free parking in the town centre and proposed to expand this from Saturday 18th up to Christmas Eve. All Councillors were in agreement with Cllr Tuohy-Halligan in this proposal and it was later agreed by the Town Manager that they would give free parking for the duration that was asked.
Mayor, Jacqui Finnan was in full support of Cllr Tuohy-Halligan’s comments. She said that the Council were at the “loaves and fishes stage” with the budget. Mayor Finnan spoke of the fact the Council was a large employer and how a reduced budget would impact staff which could possibly lead to redundancies. She was glad to hear that the Council would absorb the 2% VAT increase and was sorry that more could not be done for the traders in the town. She said that the traders had a right to protest but unfortunately the problem was higher up at government level and it was at this level that they may have more success in their request for rate reduction.
Cllr Bourke also thanked the officials for what was the “hardest budget in years”. He met with traders and explained how his hands were tied. He said that everybody was feeling the pain, things were not fair and that the banks were still getting away with things. He also said that he was not happy with his party, Labour, in Government at the moment. Cllr Bourke said that he passed the budget with “a heavy heart” but he saw no alternative to it. He called on Minister Phil Hogan to wake up and listen to the work being done by Town Councils and their importance in society.
Cllr Leahy, who voted against the budget, took on board the pain that many business people were feeling. He said that he met a business man the day of the budget meeting who was very worried for his business and 20 employees. Cllr Leahy mentioned that a number of shops were closing down and that more were preparing to close. By refusing to agree with the budget he was sending out the message that he was not prepared to take the rate charges. He said that there was a big difference in the charges and the existence of businesses, that people were worried. He believed that parking in the town centre cost too much and as a result people were abandoning the town centre. He believed that the people protesting outside should have been accommodated as “they can’t take it any more”. He also spoke of the undercurrent of civil unrest and his fears for what would happen in the future. Cllr Leahy also criticised Minister Hogan and said that he was taking business people for granted.
Cllr Swords was in agreement with other Councillors that they all wanted to see a reduction in rates but she also could not see how this could have been achieved on reading the budget.
Cllr Creamer who voted in agreement to the budget said that he remembered his election promise to work hard for those who voted for him. He was in the same dilemma as every other Councillor that voted yes as he would have loved to back the proposals of the Traders and Employers for Affordable Rates but he could not do so by going against the maintenance of Tipperary Town. He hated having to vote yes and he believed that less rates would be paid as people will pay what then can afford and renege on the rest. He said that a reduction in the budget for outdoor leisure would lead to antisocial behaviour. Cllr Creamer said it would have been a “popular thing to do to vote no” but he could not do so with the proposals that were made to make cutbacks in certain areas.
Cllr Devitt said that the country was on its knees and in his line of work saw how difficult it was for many people as children could not afford school books. He also said that he read through the budget to try to find an alternative in order to reduce rates but similar to his colleagues he could not as the finances were not there to do so. He said that he could have voted no but he felt that he would have had to provide alternatives that he couldn’t find. He said that the situation needs to be looked at a national level in order for some kind of solution to be reached.
Cllr Rafferty voted against the budget as he felt that cutbacks could have been made in the sectors recommended by the Traders Group. He said since the 70’s the commercial sector had been carrying every level with stealth taxes, water charges and planning fees. He said that business people can no longer afford this. In relation to the reduction of the street cleaning bill, Cllr Rafferty spoke of his involvement in a volunteer scheme that goes out every Saturday morning to help keep the streets cleaned. Mayor Finnan was surprised that Cllr Rafferty agreed with a reduction in the street cleaning bill as he was so involved with keeping the streets clean and the tidy towns campaign.
The Town Manager said that she was disappointed that Cllr Raffery voted against the budget as he had been given ample time to make recommendations in the workshop meetings between the Town Council and the Councillors. She said if there was any scope to take even 1% off the rates they would have done it and she hoped that the small gesture of absorbing the VAT on parking would help to ease the traders pain. She said that Council staff had been working with traders in difficult situations in relation to payment of rates and the Town Manager commented on how well the staff were dealing with this matter in a sympathetic and discreet way.
Cllr Leahy said”the roar of the Celtic Tiger was gone but the high rates still remained”. He said that the rates were too high and needed to be addressed at National Level. Mayor Finnan said that the Council would ask at Government level for something to be done in relation to the issue of rates.