Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Local Government Rates and Other Matters Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
This section deals with the provision for abatement of rates in respect of vacant properties. I welcome the section. This issue comes up quite often in certain areas, especially where a business is struggling and may find it is only using half of the premises. We then have to go to the local authority to try to find a way to get some sort of alleviation. Will this apply not just to a whole building and could there be circumstances where it could apply to a portion of a building for a short period?
What we often find is that the person goes to the local authority but it will effectively say it is only implementing the valuation put in place by the Valuation Office. This could be a common-sense measure if it were used properly. We do not want it to be open to abuse, whereby some people would retain vacant properties where they could let them at a reasonable rent and bring businesses into towns and villages in particular, as well as areas of the cities. I am assuming this is not retrospective and that it will only apply moving forward. I am linking it to section 10, which proposes that there would have to be a database.
In the context of Limerick city, places like Castleconnell, Murroe, Cappamore and Caherconlish are towns and rural villages where we would like to encourage businesses to set up. However, in many cases, SMEs would be reluctant to take a whole building and the owner of the building would be unwilling to let a portion of the building. I note it is a reserved function. Will this level of flexibility be available to allow a local authority to come up with a scheme?
When does the Minister of State anticipate that the regulations for the scheme will be issued to the local authorities? When will this come into being? When will the local authority in Limerick city and county be able to come up with a scheme that allows abatement of rates over a period for hard-pressed businesses, for businesses that may be downsizing, or for businesses that want to set up but which cannot pay the rates for the entire building? Section 9(3) reads, "The Minister may make regulations for the purposes of this section". When will the Minister of State make the regulations? Will the flexibility I propose be available? What role does the Minister of State have thereafter in regard to the reserved function in the context of a scheme that may be devised by councillors?Does the Minister of State have any further function on the basis of the scheme as designed? It is important for there to be a sense of fairness. We spend time going to the local authorities and sitting down with staff to try to get some leeway for businesses. What was done here was done in a practical way and could encourage businesses to set up in rural towns and villages as well as certain areas of Limerick city where buildings are available.