Phil Hogan: government inability

THE country's five largest city councils are together owed more than €74m in uncollected rent, water and refuse charges.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Tribune highlight the difficulties experienced by many local authorities in collecting monies owed, against a backdrop of financial turmoil in the civil service.

Between them, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway city councils are owed €26.4m in unpaid rents, nearly €32m in uncollected commercial water rates and almost €16m from refuse collection charges.

Fine Gael claims the level of outstanding debts for this year alone is a reflection of the state of the economy and the government's inability to manage the country's finances.

Dublin City Council, the largest in the country, is owed the most amount of money.

With uncollected rent of €19.7m, water rates of €21.5m and refuse charges amounting to €14.6m, the council's €56m in IOUs represents some 75% of the total.

Galway has the second-highest total of monies due, a sum of €6,921,039, although this only represents some 12% of Dublin City Council's overall arrears.

Galway was followed by Limerick City Council (€4.8m), Cork (€4.5m) and then Waterford (€2.1m).

Limerick City Council explained that it had experienced ongoing difficulties in relation to the collection of commercial water rates.

"Water bills are issued on a quarterly basis. In percentage terms, at the end of July 2009 the collection [rate] for water was 46% while at the end of July 2010 that figure was 41%," it said.

"Disconnection notices where necessary have been and will be issued to those who do not pay these charges.

"It is very expensive to provide potable water to businesses [and also treat all waste water] so it is vital that the council recoups all of its expenditure on providing water to the non-domestic sector."

However, Fine Gael's spokesman on local government Phil Hogan said that councils were like any other lender facing difficulties in reining in debts in the current economic climate.

"The first problem that has to be resolved is that businesses get credit through a properly restructured banking system," he said.

"All creditors, including local authorities, are going to be under pressure to get money [back] until this matter is resolved."

Local authority financial shortfalls are a reflection of the economy as a whole and the manner in which the nation's affairs have been mismanaged, he added.