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County Manager seeks 5% rates hike 10.01.08

by Liam Porter, Inishowen Independent

MEMBERS of Donegal County Council will meet tomorrow for their annual budget meeting but already there are signs that the meeting may not go as smoothly as officials might hope.
The Draft Revenue Budget 2008 published this week shows that County Manager Michael McLoone will be seeking a 5% increase in commercial rates in the coming year but could face strong opposition from councillors.
The council are also proposing a 26% increase in commercial water rates and while the county manager admits this represents a significant burden on the business sector, he said the council has no option under EU directives but to implement full cost recovery from non domestic users.
Mr. McLoone is seeking to raise €178,944,900 in the coming year an increase of €11.592 million on last year’s budget. He has also outlined that the total planned expenditure by the council in 2008 is €488.913 million - a 24% increase on last year.
Council members attended a workshop this week at which they discussed the budget.
Councillor Francis Conaghan said: “We did meet with IBEC before Christmas and they did ask that if there were increases they would be in line with inflation. A 5% increase is in line with inflation but we will discuss all of the options because the last thing we want to do is to run the risk of putting businesses to the wall.”
The Newtown-based councillor meanwhile said he was concerned at the possible shortfall in funding for the roads programme.
“My main issue of concern is that the amount requested is less than the amount allocated to the roads programme, so will they be able to deliver the programme now with the money they have been allocated?"
Meanwhile Buncrana based councillor Padraig MacLochlainn says he expects “some frank talking” at the workshop.
“The members are very concerned about several issues in the budget, not least of which is the fact that there seems to be a serious shortfall in the money needed for the roads programme.”
Councillor MacLochlainn said there was a clear discrepancy in terms of local Government funding because there is such a small commercial rates base in this county.
“Donegal never benefitted from the economic boom, there was a construction boom for a while but we have a bit to go to catch up with the rest of the country. Yet when the council proposed alternatives like rates on holiday homes we were told by the government that is was against their policy.”
Colr. MacLochlainn maintained a tax of €1,000 per annum on each holiday home would yield €8 million in revenue for the council and would allow them to freeze commercial rates.
“Instead we are looking at proposals to increase commercial rates by 5% and commercial water rates by 26%. The business community is getting it every way, they are under pressure in a lot of ways.”
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