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CITY TRIBUNE

City Council collects almost €35 million from businesses in past year

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Commercial rates collection levels in the city have rebounded in tandem with growth returning to the economy.

Galway City Council collected almost €35 million in commercial rates in 2017, which represents a collection rate of 78%.

That’s the highest it has been since the economy fell off a cliff in 2012 causing retailers to fold and businesses to renege on their rates’ commitments.

Head of Finance, Edel McCormack, said at a low point during the recession, collection rates once stood at 62%.

While she acknowledged the upturn in the economy had helped to improve rates’ collections levels, Ms McCormack said her staff engaged with struggling businesses to put in place payment plans.

This engagement and the “steadfast efforts of the team in the Debt Management unit” has reaped rewards in 2017, she said. Rates arrears last year stood at €10.6m.

City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath joined several city councillors in commending the work of Ms McCormack and her department, for their work in delivering a positive financial position for the Council.

He said other Councils simply wrote off bad arrears to improve the percentage of rate collections, but Ms McCormack and her team worked with businesses and devised realistic repayment plans in order to pursue every cent owed to the local authority.

Improvements in debt collection in 2017, including in rates, housing rent and housing loans, meant that the amount of debt outstanding was lowered by some €1.8m last year, Ms McCormack said.

The City Council’s income and expenditure account for last year, which was presented to city councillors at Monday’s meeting, recorded a surplus of €721,003.

“This surplus arose as a result of increases in some income sources and actual expenditure lower than expected,” she said.

Mr McGrath said while the position was positive and a good news story, a 1% reduction in income or increase in expenditure would change the complexion of the Council’s budget.

The City Council was allocated €6.5 million from Local Property Tax receipts, with €4.2m of this allocated to general expenditure and €2.3m ringfenced for housing provision and services.

Though the Non-Principal Private Residence charge was abolished in 2013, the City Council received income of €1m last year from collection of outstanding liabilities.

Capital expenditure in 2017 amounted to €12.9m, and capital income was €9.2m.

The Council’s liabilities for long-term loans stood at €63.5m at the yearend, compared with €70.5m the previous year. These relate to loans to purchase lands for housing.

The figures showed that Council wages and salaries amounted to €19.6m last year; and contract payments totalled a further €5.2m, which was a concerned to the deputy mayor, Mike Cubbard (Ind).

Cllr Cubbard questioned whether the public was getting value for money and he suggested the Council should hire more staff to do the work that private contractors were doing.

“I have no doubt there have been cases where the work of a contractor is warranted and required which I have no difficulty with for emergency works, but for everyday works we now have an opportunity to re-deploy a majority of this €5.2 million to create jobs and create a future for a large number of people,” he said.

CITY TRIBUNE

Zoning for houses ‘could impact Galway City Ring Road plan’

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Councillors have voted to rezone farming land in Rahoon to allow for houses to be developed, against the advice of planners who warned it could impact on the planned Galway City Ring Road.

The Office of Planning Regulator and Chief Executive of Galway City Council both advised elected members not to change the zoning use from agricultural to residential on the 2.842-hectare (7-acre) site. But it was passed with 14 in favour, three against and one absent.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind), who proposed the motion, said there was a need for more land to be zoned residential to facilitate the growth in population of 40,000 over the next 18 years. Cllr Noel Larkin seconded his proposal.

Brendan McGrath, the Chief Executive, said there was “no requirement to rezone additional land for residential purposes to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029”.

He said there was sufficient zoned land available to enable development.

The OPR said voting to change the zoning represented a piecemeal approach to planning and was inconsistent with national and regional policy.

“It is also considered that the proposed rezoning could prejudice the strategic future optimal use of these lands in the longer term. With regard to impact on the objective for the N6 Galway City Ring Road Scheme (GCRR), all development has to take cognisance of the objective for the N6 GCRR.

“It is also noted that the draft plan includes that the objective for the N6 GCRR has priority over all land use zoning objectives which is considered to provide sufficient protection to safeguard the scheme objective,” Mr McGrath said.

The National Transport Authority said this rezoning should not be allowed as it is likely to lead to development that was “wholly car-dependent and contrary to national and regional objectives”.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Cash-strapped students targeted by drug dealers, policing meeting hears

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Cash-strapped students in Galway are being targeted by drug lords to act as money mules, a city councillor has warned.

Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) made the remarks at a public meeting of the City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) and said that the €667,000 worth of drugs seized by city gardaí in the first 10 months of the year “is only the tip of the iceberg”.

The meeting at the Connacht Hotel heard that some €45 million passed through the accounts of so-called money mules nationwide this year alone.

Cllr Cheevers said drug dealers were targeting young people in particular.

“They’re in the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket and college students are being targeted,” said Cllr Cheevers.

It was revealed that cocaine was by far the most common drug seized in Galway, making up over half of all the drugs detected – cocaine valued at €348,000 was seized in the 10 months to the end of October.

This was closely followed by cannabis, of which €260,000 worth was taken off the streets by gardaí, while the remainder of the total was made up by heroin, ecstasy and other illegal drugs.

Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said the drugs problem was “unquantifiable” and promised that city gardaí were “attacking money laundering in a targeted and systematic way”.

Drugs were not only an urban problem but were a huge issue in county towns as well, he said, and all gardaí, from uniformed to armed response, were focused on the issue.

“Roads policing are taking a targeted role in tackling it as well,” said Chief Supt Roche.

“A new strategy is starting tomorrow,” he said at the meeting..

“Getting involved in being a money mule is a personal choice. We can warn and caution people against it.

“We can say so much but people continue to do things that are illegal,” he added.

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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Furore’ over rezoning plan for access to B&B on Headford Road in Galway

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From the Galway City Tribune – Councillors have voted to rezone a small section of Terryland Forest Park from recreational and amenity use to residential.

A majority of elected members also approved the insertion of a specific objective into the new Galway City Development Plan 2023-29 that would allow an entrance to the site through Sandyvale Lawn.

This was to facilitate safe access to a home and B&B business off Headford Road, which had become dangerous due to the recent changeover of Kirwan roundabout to a traffic lights junction.

Residents of Sandyvale Lawn, a 100+ housing estate off Headford Road, had objected to the proposals, and so too had Tuatha Terryland Forest Park, an alliance of volunteers and organisations.

The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) and Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, as well as his planning department and recreational and amenity department, had all objected to the changes.

The rezoning, and insertion of a specific objective to facilitate an entrance to the estate, was contained in the same material alteration that came before councillors, but they were obliged to vote on them separately.

Several councillors argued that a new entrance to Sandyvale Lawn was necessary to facilitate safe access to a B&B on Headford Road.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said the family who owned this business and home had been treated poorly by the City Council during the reconfiguration of the Kirwan roundabout to a signalised junction.

Referencing the large opposition to the proposal, he said the “furore over this is astounding” and argued the impact on green space and the Sandyvale Lawn estate would be minimal.

Cllr Crowe said the proposal was about creating a safe exit and entrance.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said there had been a number of near misses of cars coming in and out of the B&B, which were captured on video.

He said the current system, whereby an amber traffic light allows access to the B&B was “haphazard and dangerous”. He feared there would be a fatality if a new entrance was not approved.

“I don’t like to rezone RA [Recreational & Amenity] land but in this situation we don’t have a choice. We have to remedy a dangerous situation,” Cllr Fahy said.

Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said RA land was “absolutely sacrosanct” and she would not vote to rezone.

She asked what the legal position was regarding a rezoning of green space, which residents claimed had been paid for through a green levy applied 40 years ago when the estate was built.

Cllr Owen Hanley (Soc Dem) said he had voted initially to include the material alteration to support the B&B owners, as the removal of the roundabout had made access more dangerous for them.

But he said he would now support the residents of Sandyvale Lawn who had opposed the change.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said the family had lived there for 50 years and now it was more dangerous accessing their home through no fault of their own.

He said it was not safe that they have to enter and exit their home on an amber flashing light.

In a submission, residents of Sandyvale Lawn said the new entrance would negatively impact their estate, by increasing traffic, noise and an addition risk to children playing. They said it could be turned into another rat run like Ballinfoile and Tirellan. They also argued against the loss of green space.

Submissions also objected to the loss of the green space which was part of Terryland Forest Park, dubbed the ‘lungs of the city’.

Mr McGrath asked councillors not to rezone the land and not to insert the specific objective for a new entrance.

Both changes, however, were approved. The RA to R rezoning passed by a 12-5 vote and the specific objective for a new entrance passed by 11-5.

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