Galway City Council could start charging commercial rates on vacant premises as early as next April after a successful meeting with Local Government Minister Phil Hogan on the issue last week.
In other cities around Ireland, local authorities are authorised to charge 50 per cent of the commercial rate due on a vacant unit from the landlord. However, Galway has not be allowed to charge landlords of vacant units to date, due to an historic anomaly, meaning Galway City Council has lost out on valuable income stream.
A meeting was held between Local Government Minister Phil Hogan and a delegation from Galway City Council last Tuesday evening, with officials outlining the need for a reversal of the historic anomaly, which could provide the city council coffers with a much-needed €2 million boost.
In a letter to councillors following the meeting, City Manager Joe O’Neill said the group had outlined the case for a change in the law governing rate refunds, highlighting the major support from both the business community and cross-party political backing.
He revealed that Minister Hogan said he needed to consider any possible impact on other cities, but that he would consider introducing the change if some of the proceeds could be ring-fenced to support local economic recovery.
“We referred to the measures already being taken by the council to support recovery and advised that we had no difficulty with the principle of ring-fencing, as economic development was a priority for the council. The minister indicated that the proposal could be considered in the context of the legislative changes expected in April or May of next year,” said Mr O’Neill.
Mr O’Neill said the meeting had been very “successful in terms of making our case” and thanked Mayor Terry O’Flaherty, and Cllrs Niall McNelis, Ollie Crowe and Pádraig Conneely for their “persuasive contributions”.
“It is important now that all of us continue our efforts to secure the required change. Given the continuing decline in central funding, it is more important than ever that we maximise our income from rates so that we can continue to serve our city effectively,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Conneely said he was satisfied that the view of the delegation had been taken on by Minister Hogan but said he not yet received any indication whether the change would be introduced.
“The case was put very strongly and all he would say was that he was open-minded on it and that he was going to look at it and talk to his officials.
“The one thing that he did say, and he was very strong on it, was that if something was going to happen in Galway would we be prepared to ring-fence the money to drive economic development. He said he would look at it in that context.”