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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

Concerns over reopening of Middle Arch on Tuesday

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A Galway City Councillor has given a cautious welcome but has also raised concerns over the reopening of the ‘Middle Arch’ beside the Claddagh Basin next Tuesday.

Access was closed to the public last May following requests from the Gardai due to large crowds that had gathered in the days previously amid fears of it becoming a serious health and safety risk.

The concerns were raised by Cllr. Niall McNelis who said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

He said “The decision to close it was earlier in year was due to it had become an area where large groups had gathered drinking and had led to calls by locals that it had become a serious health and safety risk. The area also does not have safety barriers and this has led to persons falling into the water in the past.

“Recently there has been a large number of calls made that the area should be reopened and that public space be made available to the public.”

Cllr. McNelis also said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

“We can not have the same scenes repeated as we did earlier this year and in previous years. House gardens and Claddagh church grounds were used as toilets and large amounts of litter mainly drink, was left behind. I have met a number of residents this weekend who are not happy with decision and calls have been made by them to have it closed in evenings by City Council and Gardai should assist in clearing area if needs be.

“We do not have enough Garda personnel to have proper policing in our city, we need more resources for the city to tackle and enforce anti social behaviour.

“I have met this week with Gardai and have been given assurances that this will be closely monitored and occasions such as exam results nights, freshers week and good weather will be monitored,” he said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault

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Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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