The Town Hall meeting to discuss retail in Kilkenny PICTURE: PAT MOORE
The cost of Commercial Rates and parking in Kilkenny City dominated the agenda at a meeting held last week on the future of shopping in Kilkenny.
Over 30 people from local businesses and interested parties attended the meeting in City Hall, convened by Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council David Fitzgerald. The catalyst for the meeting was the recent revaluation of Commercial Rates.
Cllr David Fitzgerald said that the whole purpose of the revaluation was that Kilkenny County Council would get no greater or lesser take, but that the net figure should be fairer to everyone.
“The council gets no more money than they did — the purpose was not to increase the tax take,” he said.
However, different sectors of Ratepayers saw different results. While 60% of hospitality sector ratepayers saw a reduction in Rates, 54% of retail/shop ratepayers saw an increase.
Local retailer Anne Ryan said a lot of small businesses had closed down, but the hospitality sector appeared to be doing fine.
“Is there a possibility there could be a different system for small businesses to have their rates based on turnover and not square footage?” she asked.
Cllr Fitzgerald noted that pubs and hotels Rates took into account turnover.
“I think one of the changes we need to look at nationally is that all the valuations should be based on turnover,” he said.
“The valuation of the property in my view should reflect trading potential and ability to make money.”
Cllr Patrick McKee said the reality is the valuations placed on certain businesses have put them out of business, and said the council needed to support the shops.
“Either we’re pro-business or we are going to take as much money as we can out of it,” he said.
“This city is dying on its feet.”
A quick show of hands around the room revealed that around half had received an increases in their valuation. Half of those again had appealed. None had seen a reduction.
Maria Dunphy said she had objected to her revalued Rates, appealed — and then received an increased valuation. She said valuations in Kilkenny are ‘pretty high in relation to the rest of the country’ — the Rate struck is lower, but the valuations are quite high.
“One reason my premises was valued [high] was because I kept it in good condition and it was presentable,” she said.
She asked the rep from the valuation office if she had brought him ‘into some ramshackle room’ would would the valuation be lower?
“He said ‘yes’,” she said.
Ms Dunphy told the meeting she had spoken to someone who operates a similar business to her own, in the affluent Dublin suburb Foxrock. The premises is larger than hers, but pays substantially less Rates.
“There’s something wrong there,” she said.
Owner of Paris Texas, Pat Crotty, said that there was a perception that people in the hospitality industry were doing fine, but not everyone was. Rates, too, had changed.
“We used to get services for our Rates,” he said.
“You were happy to pay for it — bins collected, water, and what you expect from a local authority. Now we pay for all of those things separately. We still pay rates, and they’re going up.”
It was clear from the meeting that the other big issue for people is parking. Many said they wished to see one-hour free parking.
Gerry O’ Brien, who has premises in both Market Yard and Loughboy, said the Loughboy shop does three times the business, and the reason is parking. Another contributor said one hour’s free parking would be ‘wonderful’, but would have consequences for the local authority.
“I assume that would create a massive hole in the council’s Budget,” he said, and suggested trying an initiative where retailers could validate their customer’s parking tickets.
Cllr Fitzgerald said it was clear that parking charges, and not just Rates, was one of the biggest issues for people.
Pat Crotty said the damage done to Local Government by first Noel Dempsey and then Phil Hogan had played its role in the present situation.
“Our own Phil Hogan did away with borough councils everywhere, and did away with the concept of an elected area in Kilkenny [City]so we don’t even have a significant body of representatives elected from here,” he said.
He said the 12 members of Kilkenny City Municipal District ‘are from as far away as Graignamanagh and Callan’ and had less interest and knowledge of the city.
“They don’t even know half the streets,” he said.
“The focus is slipping as we don’t have members whose only interest is that, and we don’t have an executive whose interest is that.”