Rates to rise by 2.46 per cent

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COUNCILLORS struck a domestic rate increase of 2.46 per cent at a special meeting on Monday night.

Businesses and homeowners will see their rates increase by just under 2.5 per cent from April 1, with non domestic rates to rise by 2.45 per cent.

However, the regional rate - which makes up 55 per cent of the rates bill - looks set to add to the overall amount payable by ratepayers for the incoming financial year.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed in the Draft Budget that the regional rate, the portion of rates collected by Stormont, will ‘increase in line with inflation’.

The total budget for the council during 2011/12 will be almost £26 million, financed through a general grant from Central Government of £1,324,687 which is down almost £50,000 on the previous year; a credit balance applied from reserves of £530,000 - a drop of £280,000 on the previous year, and income from rates which is expected to generate just over £24m.

The council established a Finance Working Group, chaired by Councillor Vera McWilliam, to review the current budget and agree the financial priorities for the year ahead.

Councillor McWilliam explained: “The group considered a range of options to keep the rates increase as low as possible.

“We wanted to maintain high standards of service delivery, although we have less financial resources available to us in the current economic climate.

“We had to factor in the cost of the local government election in May, and have no control over increased costs in fuel, energy, national insurance, pensions and waste disposal. I am therefore pleased that we have managed to hold the increase in our running costs at 0.8 per cent.

“The decrease in the general grant which we will receive from the DOE, together with a reduction in the amount of money which will be generated from the rates and the need to reduce the subsidy applied from our reserves, means that the rates will increase by 2.46 per cent.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the councillors and staff for all of the time and effort which went into the budget setting process.”

Alderman Paul Girvan, Vice Chairman of the Finance Working Group added: “Keeping the rate increase well below the level of inflation was a real challenge. I am glad that we have agreed a sensible rate increase, given the conflicting demands on the council.”

The Mayor, Alderman Paula Bradley added: “I am conscious of the financial pressures on local residents and businesses and every option to keep costs down was considered by the council. There has been no pay rise for staff since April 2009 and this level of pay restraint is likely to continue in the future. “We have also announced savings of over £3m in staffing costs over the next five years through a voluntary severance programme.”

The Deputy Mayor, Alderman Tommy Kirkham added: “I am glad that we have been able to ensure a balance between maintaining crucial services, protecting jobs and keeping the rates increase as low as possible.”

Council Chief Executive, Jacqui Dixon explained: “We have ensured that frontline services will be maintained and indeed improved. As well as that, the council plans to enhance a number of facilities in the borough and we will continue to explore opportunities to secure any external funding which may be available to support our plans.”

The rates enable the council to provide a wide range of services such as leisure centres and waste collections.

Expenditure on projects for the year ahead include the refurbishment of Monkstown and Ballyduff community centres totalling £500,000, investment of nearly £300,000 on Sixmilewater Park and the refurbishment of Hazelbank Pavilion to the tune of £140,000, among other projects.