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February 9th 2005

Donegal businesses express concern at rates increase
Pamela Duncan

Members of IBEC in the Northwest region are refusing to pay the 5% increase in commercial rates proposed by Donegal County Council, pending full consultation on the issue. The increase, which was proposed by the County Manager, Michael McLoone, is intended to fill a budgetary shortfall between the planned income and expenditure of the council in 2005 - a sum of €785,000. IBEC says that the business community can no longer merely accept such hikes. The group is also pushing for a better method of consultation so that future standoffs might be avoided.
The Regional Director of IBEC, Mr. Padraig O’Grady, has expressed his concern at the recent increase. “If our members put up their prices at the same rate, they’d be out of business,” he said. “Our members are angry that these county councils are arbitrarily pushing up their charges by more than twice the rate of inflation, without any consultation or explanation. Their approach has been to heap charges on to their customers in the happy knowledge that no one will shout stop. Those days are over. This has gone too far!”
Increases of 12.5% in water charges and 10% in waste charges are not covered under the commercial rates, further upping the cost to local businesses. In addition, the business community pays for the disposal of wastewater, and charges linked to planning permission, and the provision of parking.
The decision to mount this protest was backed by 90% of IBEC’s members in the North West region and was reached last week at a meeting of the IBEC North West Regional Executive Committee. Dr. Jim Hoey, Regional President, commented “Non-pay costs have gone up by more than 19% in two years, when inflation has been running at less than six percent in the same period.”
In a separate statement, Peter Mulrine, former Regional President of IBEC and managing director of P. Mulrine & Sons, Ballybofey, added to mounting criticism of the Council’s decision. Mr Mulrine said businesses in Donegal were no longer prepared to simply accept major increases in rates and other charges without question. “Like any business, we need to be in a position to negotiate with a major supplier - in this case Donegal County Council. I can understand councillors are split between looking after the interests of the majority of their constituents, yet we’re the ones who are left paying the charges. This protest is an attempt to get these views heard.”
Rates are a form of property tax imposed by local authorities on the commercial and industrial sectors. They are calculated annually on the appraisal that the valuation office places on a premises and the Annual Rate of Valuation, which the local authority dictates. It is feared that hikes in rates could have a knock-on effect on businesses, causing job losses in the region.

A delegation of IBEC representatives will be meeting with the county manager over the next couple of weeks. IBEC has also indicated its members’ disapproval of increases in waste and water charges of 10% and 12.5% respectively.

To gauge the implications of the rates increase on local companies, Donegal Times contacted Jim White, principal of the Abbey and Central Hotels, who asked for some time to ascertain the figures. He returned the call a few hours later - a delay he attributed to the shock he received when the amounts were presented to him by his office. Rates paid by the Abbey Hotel in 2004 were €80,737, with water rates of €18,348. Rates for the Central were €64,134, and €23,940 respectively - a total of €187,159. This means that with a 5% rise in commercial and 12.5% in water rates, Mr White will incur an increase of up to €13,000 in 2005. These figures have to be added to other charges such as waste disposal, planning permission costs and the 33% of turnover which goes on wages alone. Factor in further overheads, including insurance and energy costs and the realisation that running a business in Ireland today is not plain sailing becomes increasingly clear.

Simple Simon says goodbye and good luck to Pauline Scott. ‘Pauline has been with Simple Simon for the last 14 years and she will be sorely missed by her friends, colleagues and customers. Pauline is taking her talents to pastures new at Harvey’s Point, where we know she will be a credit to them, our loss is their gain. We would like to thank Pauline for all her hard work over the years and wish her every success in her new job.’

General Manager of Donegal Golf Club, Murvagh, made redundant

Surprise move by club officers sees top

official given three months notice

The General Manager of Donegal Golf Club, Murvagh, has been given notice that he is to be made redundant following a decision by the Joint Club Council to dispense of his services. In a surprise move by the board, Mr Patrick Nugent was informed that, because of a slowdown of growth in revenue, the club could no longer afford to employ a general manager.
Mr. Nugent was appointed to the position in 2001, taking over from Mr John McBride, who had worked on a part-time basis under the title ‘Administrator’. Mr. Nugent was told on Tuesday 25th January that the club could no longer afford a general manager, and he was placed on three months notice.

From its opening in the early 70s up till 1990, Murvagh was run on a voluntary basis by a management committee that consisted of the men and ladies president, men and ladies captain and vice-captain, immediate past captain, secretary, treasurer, greens convenor, house convener, youth convenor, and six selected members.
In 1991, because of the growing number of members and visiting players, and the need to develop new facilities, the decision was made to appoint an Administrator. John McBride was the man selected to do the job on a honorarium, working on a part-time basis.
The nineties saw the number of members increase to over 900 and an ambitious development programme implemented that included spending circa €1 million on renovating and extending the club-house. So healthy were the club’s finances at this time that the project required very little bank borrowing - the greater part of the expansion being financed from accumulated profits.
In the year 2001, John McBride reached retirement age and the management committee took the decision that, to maintain and indeed accelerate the forward momentum of the club, a full-time professional manager was needed. After an intensive interviewing process, Mr. Patrick Nugent was selected. With a background in sports management that spanned several countries, Mr Nugent was installed in Murvagh on a substantial salary and given a mandate to continue the forward direction of the club, both on a commercial level and in providing a top quality service to members and visitors alike.
By the millennium, Donegal Golf Club had become quite a business, generating revenues of close to €800,000. Along with bar and catering facilities, the club boasted a shop, part-time professional, 900 members - and green fees that contributed up to 40% of total turnover. When Mr Nugent arrived, he found a pristine course, a major capital development completed, and a FAS team in place to look after the course. As one of his first steps, Mr. Nugent appointed a financial controller to the club.
However, since the year 2000, as anyone involved in the hospitality industry knows, things have not been all plain sailing in that sector.
In the intervening period, many events detrimental to the advancement of the leisure business have taken place. And, in this respect, Murvagh was no exception. Faced with rising costs and static turnover, something had to give. And it seems that something was Mr Nugent’s job.

On Tuesday, January 25th, prior to the monthly meeting in the Mill Park Hotel, a small number of the club’s council met with Mr. Nugent and conveyed to him the news that he was to be made redundant, pursuant of three months notice. According to reports, when the announcement was later made to the meeting, there was no dissenting voice from the floor. Mr Nugent did not then attend this meeting as he normally would have done.
But what happens out at Murvagh now? The club has become big business, with potential for immense revenue growth - and has a paid staff of around 14 persons. With the job of general manager now wiped from the hierarchy of executive positions, who guides its business advancement over the next decade? Surely it can’t be done from a purely voluntary base. Are we to see the return of a part-time Administrator? Interesting times ahead at Donegal Golf Club, Murvagh.
When contacted by Donegal Times on Wednesday 2nd February, Mr Nugent was reluctant to discuss the circumstances leading to his impending redundancy. On being asked about his terms of employment, Mr Nugent replied that he had a standard contract with Donegal Golf Club. Mr Nugent indicated that he was told of his redundancy just prior to the club’s monthly meeting on January 25th at the Mill Park Hotel. He also confirmed that economic circumstances were cited as the reason for the termination of his employment. “That is what I was told” he agreed.
Mr Nugent also verified to this paper that he had recently bought a new house in the vicinity of Donegal Town. Indeed, the word within the local golfing fraternity is of a house-warming, cum 40th birthday party, on the Saturday before Mr Nugent received his notice. Dubbed ‘The Last Supper’ by Murvagh wags, some of the club officers are reported to have been among the attendance. However Mr Nugent told the Times “Whatever happens, I’m staying in town. I like the Donegal people - they are very friendly”.

Contacted on the same day by this paper, Mr Jim Nixon said he needed time to communicate with the rest of the committee to formulate a response. On Friday February 4th, he called the Times office to say “The only comment we have to make is ‘No comment’. It is a private matter and we see no need to say anything further”.
He also said that Mr Nugent would be contacting us personally. About 5 minutes later Mr Nugent rang our office. He said that, as he was still working for the club, he would prefer if the matter was not reported in the paper. On being told we would not pull the story, he replied “That’s alright, then”.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-74-9722860 Fax: +353-74-9722937