Many of us – myself included – had committed to the maximum amount of time (10 years) at the lowest rate possible (3% every year for 9 years), for what was legally-obliged equalisation.
There were three issues I wanted dealt with:
1. That the Special Rates Incentive Scheme (SRIS) – for New Ross specifically – could be raised from 15% to 18%, to effectively neutralise the rise over and above the annual New Ross 3% rise needed to equalise with the rest of the County (including rural New Ross district) to the full 21% in 1 year; I raised this in council, municipal, and public meetings four times.
2. The lack of shovel-ready projects breaking ground for New Ross Economic Development Infrastructure – earlier assumed to be in 2019 (two years away, despite rate-payers feeling the cost up front);
3. The fear that since equalisation would be achieved for the specific purpose of raising it – not lowering – (legally, only when they are equalised, can the county rate change), this would be a relentless march upwards.
This is what happened:
a) It was notably added to the final proposals, that the 15% New Ross SRIS would get another 2% (for a total of 17%) with the county-wide raise (from the now equalised base);
b) It was demonstrated that, with the lifting of the previous RIS cap of €500 benefit, this 17% would be of greater financial benefit to ratepayers than 18% on equalisation – or even 21% with the county post-equalisation raise;
c) After discussion amongst the New Ross councillors (we left the main meeting to do so), and prompted by our chairman Willie Fitzharris in the main meeting, the Chief executive agreed the officials would not propose any further changes to the New Ross SRIS for 3 years – after which, we would taper it down to meet the County level (as we would have had to do under the 10 year equalisation anyway);
d) the Chief Executive had agreed that no County rates increase would be sought by officials for the next two years;
d) on the proposal of Cllr Johnny Mythen, the elected Members as a whole gave a show of hands in favour of honouring this commitment also;
e) the New Ross Advance Factory project has been notably moved up in the county timetable from 2019 previously, to 2018 currently.
What this means:
1. New Ross Town ratepayers should take maximum advantage of the SRIS to neutralise the effects county-wide equalisation. With about 40% participation in the current RIS, this will mean a non-trivial cultural change needed – but this is incentivised by the lifting of the previous €500 cap. It will also be facilitated by the now repeatedly publicly stated commitment by the rates department to flexibly and constructively work with individual ratespayers to tailor payments – even tapering according to season. Effectively, with SRIS, New Ross ratepayers take two-years of the previous annual equalisation, up front – and this is then held flat for two years, before the benefit starts to taper -off after year 3 (remembering: equalisation would have occurred at 3% per year anyway).
2. From my own direct queries: the move-up of the Advance Factory project, could break ground as early as Summer 2018. This would be if a company accepted planning proposed as-is (should an incoming company – that had committed – want to tweak plans, this would require a planning alteration that could push that back to the second half of 2018). This would be a new, or expanding business in the area – not an existing one substituting space. So in addition to the immediate construction footfall and buzz for the town, there would be new jobs for thr town and district following right after.
3. There is no way we can legally oblige a following-year’s council to obey a command to keep rates flat; but a public commitment from the Executive, and a public show of hands by current county councillors in support of New Ross district, together with district and county cross-party support, is credible (in the way that previous rhetoric on other issues was not); the rationale offered by the Executive – historically low expense of borrowing (1% for 20 years) to finance our own economic development, rather than waiting for someone else to act, is compelling.
These are the reasons, after a great deal of debate (even within my own party) and bargaining, that I voted in favour.