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Borough Council blocks proposal to reduce commercial rates

THE MEMBERS OF Kilkenny Borough Council have agreed to allocate a total of €70,000 for the development of The Closh park, opposite Kilkenny Fire Station, to include the eventual provision of a skate park for the city.

However, despite a late increase to the Council’s income for the coming calendar year, the Council voted against a Fianna Fáil proposal to reduce commercial rates by 2%, intended to assist local businesses in the current economic climate.

The budget arrangements were made at the Council’s annual Budget Meeting on Monday night where County & City Manager, Joe Crockett, had earlier announced that the Council’s project funding for 2010 had been increased by almost €133,000.

The surprise increase in funding came as a result of moderate increases to the Local Government Fund allocation and the County Charge, both of which were proposed in last week’s national Budget by Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan.

The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil groups on the Council each proposed packages on how to spend the additional €132,785 that had been assigned to the Council to spend next year.

The Fine Gael package, which was ultimately adopted by a majority of eight votes to four, assigned €20,000 for the establishment of a new Tidy Towns Committee, details of which would be finalised in the New Year, as well as a further €10,000 to the upkeep of the Watergate Theatre and €20,000 for works on the restoration and upkeep of the Tholsel basement.

€14,500 was also set aside for increased tourism promotion under the package approved by the members, while the development of The Closh would be allocated a further €20,000 on top of the €50,000 earlier assigned to the project.

Fianna Fáil’s alternative proposal included a reduction in commercial rates of 2 per cent – a move that would have saved local businesses almost €125,000 in 2010 – and a potential donation of €10,000 to the City Library to fund the purchase of books and periodicals for the coming year. The package, formally proposed by Cllr Joe Reidy, also intended to allocate €10,000 to a parking fund intended to stimulate city centre shopping, and outlined a €2,000 donation to the Carlow-Kilkenny Drugs Taskforce.

The Fianna Fáil proposals also included a €25,000 allocation for a Kilkenny ‘Christmas Festival’ next winter, which Cllr Reidy envisaged as including a Christmas Market and ice-skating rink at Canal Square, and also featuring a public event where the city’s Christmas lights would be turned on in late November.

The alternative package, which would have seen the Council’s takings reduced by over €186,000, was to be part-funded by €46,000 of unclaimed expenses by the Borough Council members from the 2009 year.

The total overall budget, as approved with Fine Gael’s amendments, notably allocated €500,000 for improvements to the facades of High Street, John Street, and Rose Inn Street in the city, as well as €55,000 for the provision of ‘variable messaging signage’. The measures form part of the Borough Council’s overall €4m Mobility Management Plan.

Elsewhere, €300,000 was set aside as a continuing provision for The Watershed swimming pool, €135,000 was assigned for supporting the local Arts scene, and €100,000 was provided for the relocation of the new Butler Gallery.

Presenting the draft budget, Crockett said the budget’s provisions were influenced by a number of major points, including the need to improve accessibility and mobility in the city centre, the continuation of an investment package in the city centre, the provision of efficient local services and the maintenance of local employment.

City Mayor, Cllr Malcolm Noonan (Green Party), commended the approved Budget and said it included a wide scope of projects which would be the envy of other local authorities in Ireland.