North Tipperary County Council is carrying arrears of E1.8million from uncollected commercial and water rates with some businesses point blankly refusing to pay their dues to the local authority.
And, Manager of North Tipperary County Council Mr Joe MacGrath has warned that the gloves are coming off when it comes to dealing with such people, having stated that he has no intention of subsidising their business at the expense of others.
The staggering figures presented to the council at the February meeting left many elected representatives stunned after they discovered that there are approximately 373 accounts in arrears from all over the county. But, there is general concensus that while such a high level of accounts in arrears is not acceptable, a large proportion of those are working with the council to facilitate collection of the due amounts.
Mr MacGrath was quick to point out that the vast majority of rate payers settle their accounts each year. However, he accepted that business is tough at the present time and expressed a willingness to sit down with anyone who is under pressure, to work out a mechanism for payment. What he will not tolerate, he said, is rate payers making no effort whatsoever to pay rates, or to make contact in any shape or form with the council officials.
“This is simply unacceptable. There are some who are making no effort at all, who will not even talk to us, and who are giving our rate collectors the runaround. That is very unfair and I cannot allow it to continue because I am not going to subsidise their businesses, thereby disadvantaging the business which is paying. It’s not on and we will be pursuing them vigorously. I am telling them now to come in and talk to us because these charges are not going away. We will be pursuing rates through our own collectors, debt collectors and we will publish the list of those who have made no attempt to pay rates. They will be given every chance in the next few weeks and if they don’t make contact, the only conclusion I will be coming to is that they are refusing to pay their rates,” Mr MacGrath said.
The council’s programme of work is largely dependant on monies accrued from the collection of rates. And, if they do not manage to reduce, quite significantly, the shortfall in the rate collection figures, a number of programmes could come under threat.
The total rate collection from 2012 should have amounted to E8.5million, but only E6.1m was actually collected. A further E562,000 was written off as irrecoverable while the uncollected schedule amounted to E1.8million.
Mayor Michael O’Meara supported the Manager in his comments and said that by pursuing those who have not paid their rates, the council is actually safeguarding the other businesses who have paid. This is due to the fact that no business should be given an unfair advantage of not having to pay rates, while their counterparts are coming up with the cash.
“Our council should not be seen as a soft touch and let the message go out loud and clear now that we are taking a strong stance on this. There has been plenty of notice given and every chance will be made available to rate payers. It’s up to them now,” he said.
Meanwhile a letter is to be sent to the Minister appealing for a discressionary leniency clause to be written into the schedule of rates when it comes to isolates rural public houses who may have sizeable functions rooms attached. Cllr John Hogan said that many such premises had built function rooms which were vital to the rural community but which are now used very rarely. However, they are taken into account when the rate on valuation is calculated and this is crippling the proprietors.
Cllr Hogan received general support for the call but Mr MacGrath said that he did not have the powers of discression or leniency. However, he did accept Cllr Hogan’s point but said that his hands were tied due to the regulations.