DOWN District Council has struck a new district rate and has agreed an increase of 2.57 per cent.
With the Regional Rate set at 2.70 per cent, the overall effect on ratepayers will be an increase of around 2.62 per cent. Councillors passed the new rate unanimously at the full council meeting on Monday evening (11 February 2013).
Rates bills are made up of two parts; district rates (approximately 45 per cent of the bill), which individual councils set, and the Regional Rate (approximately 55 per cent) which is set at Stormont. The District Rate is used to meet the costs of providing a wide range of local services – from leisure and recreational services through to economic development and also includes environmental and waste management services.
Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Mickey Coogan, said: “The proposed increase is below this year’s projected rate of inflation of 2.7% and is also under the 2.70% increase in the Regional Rate. Over the last three years the Council has worked hard to keep any increase well below the inflation rate while at the same time continuing to invest in the District. Over the same period inflation will have been about 10% while the Council has held the rate increase down to 4.56 per cent – an average of 1.5 per cent each year.”
The Chairman of the Rates Working Party, Councillor Walter Lyons, thanked the members and officers for their work and added: “All Councillors are acutely aware of the difficult balancing act between the need to minimise or eliminate any rate increase and continuing to deliver high quality services and invest in our District”.
The impact of the proposed increase in both rates will result in an annual increase of £8.86 – the equivalent of just over 17 pence per week – for a typical terrace house. For a four bedroomed detached house the rise will cost an additional £30.13 per year – or around 58 pence per week.
A retail / office property could rise by about £153.12 per year (£2.94 per week)
Mr John Dumigan, Clerk and Chief Executive said: “The increase has been kept to a minimum through a detailed review of departmental expenditure. Work is already in progress for further reviews for the next two years to identify further savings with all areas being challenged to justify all expenditure and improve income. A number of areas have been targeted including fleet, accommodation, energy usage, unnecessary overtime and agency work.”
Councillor Coogan added: “I am pleased that the Council has reaffirmed its commitment to the delivery of the capital programme which will run through to 2017/18. This investment has been protected by the commitment of all staff to do more with less. We will continue to remain in a very difficult economic climate and pressures on rates and revenue incomes will no doubt continue. The Council has stepped up and shown leadership and has achieved the almost impossible balance between investing in the district to secure jobs and assist economic development during these difficult times while also providing efficient value for money services.”
* The new Downshire Civic Centre has now been completed and has placed a high class facility in the heart of our district. This building will be pivotal in the Council’s effort to retain and compete for further public sector jobs to be brought into the district.
* The Council has delivered over £5m of projects in the last two years to transform the streetscape of two of our three towns. This year the Council will commence work in the third town with a £2m project in Ballynahinch. The Council’s investment seeks to secure Ballynahinch’s future as a thriving market town.
* 2013 will see the completion of the international championship standard mountain bike trail at Castlewellan Forest Park. This will be completed in time to allow the district to benefit from the World Police and Fire Games which will provide an enormous boost to our tourism dependent businesses.
* The Council will continue to make investments in the promotion of tourism including an extensive events programme.
* The Council will deliver a further three playgrounds and commence the overhaul of sports pavilions.
* The Council will commence the delivery of a state-of-the-art leisure centre in the heart of Downpatrick which will be easily accessible by everyone in the district and will be a key part of the revitalisation of the town centre.
* This year will see the introduction of further recycling initiatives and particularly the collection of Food Waste. This will contribute significantly towards our recycling targets and allow us to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from waste are significantly reduced.
What the Councillors Said
Councillor Terrry Andrews (Independent): “We are living in difficult economic times and the rates Working Party have spent many hours in achieving the best for the ratepayers in keeping services in place but in keeping the rates down as low as possible. It has been a fine balancing act. The officers and Councillors had a lot of difficult decisions had to be made but I am delighted that we have done the best we could for the ratepayers and I commend the work of the Council staff who worked under pressure to help deliver the new District Rate.”
Councillor Eamonn O’Neill (SDLP): “We have over the past three years been aware of the pressures on business and local home ratepayers. We would like to thank the Chief Executive and his team who were challenged by the councillors to justify every cost and expense on the budget. Over the past three years we’ve increased the district rate by 4.56 per cent while the rate of inflation has been at 4.97 per cent. We only have to do this one more time and it will then be the job of the statutory transition committee [under RPA] and in future the rate could be separate from Newry and Mourne area or combined. That will have to be sorted out. I hope we can keep the rates at this level of increase.”
Councillor William Dick (DUP): “We would like to thank all for their hard work over the past few months. It was a difficult process. It would have been good to strike a zero rate but we are realists. It was not achievable. But we came as close as possible. We too recognise the hardship business and the community are facing and are therefore happy that we got the rates as low as possible. I am glad that the community and leisure facilities in Saintfield are now on th everge of turning round and will be build into the new programme funded by the rates increase tonight.”
Councillor Patrick Clarke (Alliance): “I would like to thank everyone involved in this long and difficult process. The rates have been kept to a minimum and that is important. There were tough choices in the spending plans. The Council staff and Councillors have worked hard to keep the new district rate down below inflation.”
Councillor Stephen Burns (Sinn Féin): “This was a very testing time. It was not easy for the Council officers sometimes but the Councillors were working in the interest of the ratepayers. We live in challenging times and it is good to see now the leisure centres in Downpatrick and Saintfield moving ahead. It is disappointing to see the Newcastle leisure centre running slow and we need to deliver on this in the next year. There is a fear that this is may be the leisure centre that nearly happened.”
Councillor Robert Burgess (UUP): “This has been a positive district rate to set given the circumstances we have faced. The residents of Saintfield will be delighted as they have been lobbying for a new Leisure centre from 1972.”
Councillor Mickey Coogan (Independent) added: “We scaled back on costs managed to increase the capital spend and we were not wreckless. As the districts’ ;largest employer, we have done what we can to help shape recovery in the local economy. The process needs to be managed. EWe need to work closely with Council officers to implement this.”
The Council unanimously passed the new District Rate.
Volunteer Railway Enthusiast Councillor Enright Blocked by Conflict of Interest at Rates Meeting
COUNCILLOR Cadogan Enright was forced to withdraw from the Council chamber on Monday night prior to the decision to strike the District Rate owing to the last-minute inclusion of the Downpatrick and County Down Railways extension project.
Down District Council’s Standing Orders on Expressions of Interest which all councillors have to declare at the start of meetings prevented him from participating.
Councillor Enright said: “As an active member of the local railway society, I lay railway tracks most weekends, and Council rules do not permit me to participate in voting on projects where I am a member.
“However, I am delighted that the £32,000 for land acquisition has been agreed, as this can be written off over many years and if we succeed with the £1.36 million of funding that can be drawn down this year, it will boost the local economy in extending the railway line to Ballydugan and Downpatrick Racecourse”.
“Like other councillors, I was very involved in the rates committee which came up with a below-inflation rates figure for the third year in a row that we had before us on Monday night. I seconded Councillor William Dick’s proposal of 2.54% in the working party last month with a heavy heart, as I know this is already more than many people can afford both at home or in small businesses in the area.
“This was brought home to me only two weeks ago when I visited Minder’s and Donnelly’s clothes shops in Downpatrick’s Market Street after their announcements that they were closing. They explained that rates were now £400 per week or £20,000 a year for small shops such as theirs before ever they sold even a pair of socks in any week. Rates are now unaffordable for many small businesses.”
“I have proposed to the incoming rates working party that we examine how other councils are gaining access to large new revenues from Renewable Energy. Western Councils in NI like Omagh are getting up to £4000 pa per megawatt in rates, and Donegal on the other side of the boarder has fully 30 per cent of its rates now coming from renewable energy. The new offshore windfarm would be worth £3.5 million in rates per annum, and would allow us to drop our rates bill by 17 per cent in one year if we were allowed to tap into it as a new source of funds, and this could create a vital lifeline for small business in Down.”