Green Party councillor Mark Dearey
Louth has the lowest number of commercial rates collected in the country, according to Louth County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin, who says the attitude of payees in large towns such as Dundalk differs from those in rural areas.
The Chief Executive made the remarks as Green Party councillor Mark Dearey called on a heatmap to identify what areas of the county, in the big towns in particular, are worst for returning rates.
"We have the lowest collection rate in the country in Louth," Martin told last week's full council meeting. "Years ago rates would be at 93, 94, 95%." The CE says the issue is mostly prevalent in the county's two major towns.
"It's largely in the two towns," she said. "Some can't pay - a lot won't pay. The pressure we are putting on people to pay their debts is having an effect. It affects our day-to-day cash flow. It's cash we should have but don't. We are working very hard. We have made huge improvements.
"In rural counties, the attitudes toward paying is different. In two very big towns, there is a culture among ratepayers. I don't think the whole campaign nationally with water charges helped us. The attitude toward paying in towns is different to rural areas. It used to be very good."
In response, Cllr Dearey asked that the council produce a heatmap which would help indicate particular problem areas.
"I don't see the connection between having big towns and collecting debt," he said. "Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat, Dearey explained why he felt such technology, which he has been requesting for a number of years, could be a benefit to improving the number of successful rates collections.
"If we knew where those areas where, we could work on the people. I got a commitment (last week) that there was going to be a mapping exercise using satellite location technology and cross-referencing that with the data and the addresses to identify individual businesses.
"If we knew what the weak points were, we as councillors could in our daily and weekly exchanges with people be messaging for the council," he said.
Dearey says local representatives could impress on non-payers that they need to make paying rates a priority. "There's no point running away," he said. "The council is open to discussing these things," he added, in relation to setting up payment plans for businesses.
"It might also be useful in terms of getting information on properties that the council has no ability to track the owners on because they're out of state. It would help with that process."
Also speaking at last Monday's full council meeting held at County Hall in Dundalk, Ardee Municipal District councillor Pearse McGeough described Louth's rate collection figures as "a damning indictment."
He asked if discussions on the rates collection issue had taken place with other councillors in the country.