CORK County Council will not impose a rate increase on businesses until at least 2021, ensuring that they are not increasing the cost of business in the county.
But tenants in homes which were formerly owned by Town Councils, may see an increase in rent this year.
At this week’s Council meeting to discuss the Budget for 2017, chief executive Tim Lucey told councillors that provisions continue to be made for the Rates Relief Scheme, which is applicable to all businesses, but specifically targeted at small and medium businesses.
Mr Lucey said the Council would also be using the €2m from the Local Property Tax (LPT), which has remained the same for 2017, to enhance public space and infrastructure in towns and villages across the county.
Mr Lucey also said that the Council was taking €1.8m out of its reserves for next year’s revenue budget of €306.8m, an increase of €11m on the 2016 figure.
The chief executive said that the Council would have to look at increasing the rents for people living in houses formerly owned by Town Councils, which could bring in extra revenue of €750,000 for their coffers.
‘We do have to look at our rent scheme and it is a prudent approach to increase the take on our housing rents, and that’s reasonable as we’re supporting capital works like energy efficiency,’ said Mr Lucey.
However, Cllr Des O’Grady (SF) said the Council shouldn’t increase rents for former Town Council tenants.
‘Town Council housing is generally in a poor state and we feel it should be deferred,’ said Cllr O’Grady.
Cllr Rachel McCarthy (SF) said the rent increase plan was ‘absolutely wrong’, while Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said there is huge pressure already on the rental sector in Cork and that homelessness is affecting young families in West Cork.
In their 13-point amendment proposal, Sinn Fein called for the employment of four extra tenancy workers to deal with homelessness, the employment of two social workers in the county, and extra disability grants for social housing tenants. But some councillors criticised the timing of these amendments, saying they had only received them that morning.
Cllr June Murphy (Ind) acknowledged that while there was some merit in the social housing proposals being proposed by Sinn Fein, she asked why they hadn’t proposed them earlier.
‘I think it’s disingenuous to their fellow councillors that they only produced these proposals this morning. It’s just a PR exercise as usual and you knew well coming in here that it wasn’t happening. This is all just game playing with ye, and I’m sick of it,’ said the Mitchelstown councillor.
Cllr Kevin Conway (FG) agreed with Cllr Murphy on the late timing of Sinn Fein’s proposals.
‘This happened last year too – getting a late email on the morning of the Budget meeting – and this should have happened months ago,’ said Cllr Conway.
Cllr Rachel McCarthy (SF) said she was appalled at the way this was panning out in the chamber.
‘We have the right to make amendments and Cllr O’Grady has constantly acknowledged the work of Lorraine Lynch, head of finance. The fact is we didn’t get a reply until last Friday and it’s not the case we purposely delayed handing out the amendment proposal. I don’t know why there are underhand comments coming from other councillors today,’ said Cllr McCarthy.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said he agreed with some of the Sinn Fein proposals, but not all of them.
Cllr Claire Cullinane (Ind) said there is merit in what is being said, but pointed out that Sinn Fein ‘shoot themselves in the foot sometimes’.
Cllr Alan Coleman (Ind) said he was unhappy with some of the funding proposals being put forward by Sinn Fein, but said there are merits in some of them.
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) said it was worth saying that councillors were more informed about this year’s budget, but said it was far too late for Sinn Féin’s amendments.
Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Seamus McGrath (FF), said councillors have all been through budget meetings before and that there is no change this year.
‘To be fair, Sinn Féin would have needed to have engaged long before today’s meeting,’ he said.
Chief executive Tim Lucey said it would be ‘disingenuous’ to suggest that there was a deliberate ploy to delay the budget proposals.
‘I have provided all the information and they are the facts,’ said Mr Lucey.
‘We submitted 22 questions in October and we didn’t get a reply until last Friday,’ said Cllr O’Grady.
The Sinn Féin amendments to the budget were defeated by 40 votes to 8, while the overall budget was passed by the same number of votes.