Cllr Robert Power
Kildare County Council recently passed its budget for 2022. One of the call-out lines that county councillors have become accustomed to reading in the chief executive’s foreword to the budget is the one that states “for the (12th, 13th, 14th...) consecutive year, commercial rates remain unchanged”.
This is intended as a demonstration of our county’s commitment to supporting enterprise and showcases our pro-business attitude.
But as the saying goes “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it that way’”. It’s time we reassess our thinking and ask ourselves whether our steadfast position on rates is actually in the best interest of the county and its people.
As the rates income to the council has not been increased in 14 years, it is accurate to say that our spending power has fallen way behind. Not only have we stagnated but the prices we pay to redevelop footpaths, to sweep streets and provide playgrounds have all increased substantially in that time.
‘Owe It To Public’
We owe it to the public to be more targeted in our objectives and must ask ourselves, when we freeze commercial rates, what or whom are we trying to support?
I believe that our allegiance should be to the commercial and social organisations of town and village centres throughout Kildare. As a planning authority it’s the responsibility of the council to ensure we provide proper facilities centred around vibrant communities and a sustainable local economy.
In order to provide for the community the council levies a commercial rate on businesses. Ideally, this system should favour our small local firms who, proportionately add more jobs, character and vibrancy to main street than the big box retailers and large out of town industrial developments. Those larger firms should be rated in a way that is not a disincentive to doing business here but takes account of the need to support services within the county. Fortunately the commercial rates system is pretty well structured to do just that.
For example, a 2.5% increase in the Annual Rate on Valuation (ARV) would be the equivalent of about an extra €2 per week for your local butcher or cafe; the mid-sized retailer on main street might pay an extra €4 but the international clothing brand in the shopping centre can expect an increase of €10 upwards. Those most heavily impacted by an increase in pure euro terms would be the larger stores (supermarkets, out of town retail-warehouses etc) and of course industrial units with large footprints.
In fact for any increase made, the top 120 businesses would stump up 60% of all additional rates. That’s still 50% more than the total amount generated by the other 4,950 businesses in the county.
If we are to see services delivered by Kildare County Council at the rate of which the public are demanding them, it is critical that we catch up sooner rather than later on rates. Services like playgrounds, litter collection, festivals and initiatives like the Shop Front grant are not something that concern out-of-town retailers but they are of critical importance to the health of main street.
Improving our town and village centres must be our primary economic objective. A pat on the back from big business won’t sweep streets and it doesn’t build playgrounds.
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