MAKING REPRESENTATIONS From left: David Keogh, Michael Henehan, Joe Corcoran and Vivian Walsh attended Monday's Westport/Belmullet Municipal District meeting on behalf of Westport publicans and hoteliers, to voice concern over 'astronomical' rates being sought by Mayo County Council.
A ‘tsunami’ of business closures could batter Mayo if the commercial-rates system is not tackled.
That’s according to Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Paul McNamara, who was speaking at yesterday’s (Monday) meeting of Westport/Belmullet Municipal District after listening to a presentation by Westport publicans about Government-imposed rates hikes.
The meeting heard some publicans and restaurant owners in Westport are facing a rates hike in excess of 100 percent.
“I fear there’s a tsunami coming where businesses will just step back and say what are we doing?” said Cllr McNamara.
“If the calls are not listened to now, it will be too late. The Government need to acknowledge the crisis we’re facing.
“Pubs and restaurants are the backbone of rural towns and villages, and if they go, we’re in serious trouble.
“The way rates are calculated at national level needs to change. It is done by civil servants who don’t wear a business hat when doing it,” he added.
Commercial rates are calculated by multiplying the annual rate of valuation, as passed by the local authority, by the rateable valuation of a business property. The rateable valuation is determined by the Commissioner of Valuation in Dublin.
A recent nationwide county-by-county revaluation was conducted by the Commissioner of Valuation. While some Mayo businesses’ valuation remained the same, and others were devalued, many are finding their valuations have been increased, sending their rates sky high when multiplied by the annual rate of valuation.
‘Businesses will crumble’
Four Westport publicans and hoteliers attended the meeting, which was held at Hotel Newport, to voice their concerns. David Keogh told councillors that many hospitality businesses in Westport are suddenly facing ‘astronomical’ rates.
“It is a huge worry in our industry at present,” he said.
Michael Henehan runs a pub on Bridge Street (Henehan’s) that has been in his family for 100 years.
He outlined some of the eye-watering operational costs increases that his business has faced: a 104 percent increase in energy costs; an 80 percent rise for rates; a 10 percent wages-cost increase; and a 40 percent insurance hike.
“I’ve always honoured my commitments. We were well supported throughout the pandemic by national and local government, but we are going to need supports going forward to make our businesses manageable and sustainable.
“If we don’t get support, businesses and communities will crumble. We would ask you to reconsider any rates increases in future,” he told councillors.
Government approach criticised
Speaking to The Mayo News afterwards, Henehan said businesses will ‘buckle’ and ‘break’ if something is not done to address rising costs.
“My family are in business 100 years. For the 21 years that I’ve been running the business I’ve paid every penny without question to our county. I will always pay my way, but you have to be fair to the people you are asking everything of. We can only provide so much for our community and the greater Mayo region. It is unfair to put this kind of pressure on us, because at some point we will buckle and we will break.
“I know where it is heading. We are trying to stop it before it gets there. Westport might be the crown jewel in Mayo. I provide a huge amount of local employment as do all my colleagues. It will get to the point where that’s not sustainable, not viable. At some point it will end and if we don’t stop this now. That’s where we are going.”
He was also critical of some factors around how the move to revaluate businesses was made by Government.
“All the key financial indicators are that we are going to go into a recession or certainly a decline financially within our sector in 2023. This hasn’t been factored in.
“The manner in which our Government has systematically gone through county by county, leaving Mayo to the very end, nearly isolating people so it is too late for anyone to do anything,” he said, adding that he believes the staggered county-by-county announcements of hikes was a ploy to avoid a countrywide announcement and thereby ‘creating absolute uproar’.
‘It’s very scary’
Cllr Brendan Mulroy said that is concerning that businesses on Bridge Street in Westport are facing challenges.
“Westport has a lot of footfall, so God help the rest of the county if places on Bridge Street are struggling,” he said.
Cllr Seán Carey (FF) proposed a two-year freeze on rates increases.
Cllr Peter Flynn (FG) said that Fine Gael did not increase the annual rate of valuation for businesses in the county while the party had control of the council from 2009 to ’14. However, he said, from 2014 to now, the Fianna Fáil-led council had increased rates by 35 percent.
Cllr Christy Hyland said that rates were a ‘huge concern for ratepayers’, especially after being hit with such enormous challenges as the post-Celtic Tiger recession, the pandemic, Brexit, the fallout of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis.
“I’ve got letters from people who have been hit with 600 percent increases. It’s very scary,” he said.