Zero per cent rise is good news for ratepayers

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Householders across Newtownabbey could be set to see no increase in their rates bills come April 2016.

At Monday night’s meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council’s Operations Committee, members were informed that it is expected that there will be a zero per cent rise in the district rate - the portion of the overall bill set by council - for the second year running.

The regional rate, which makes up around 55 per cent of the total bill, is set by the Northern Ireland Executive.

Catherine McFarland, Director of Finance and Governance, provided councillors with a draft estimate for the 2016/17 rates which reveal a zero per cent increase for Newtownabbey ratepayers and a 0.49 per cent decrease for Antrim ratepayers.

This also means a decrease of 0.49 per cent for non-domestic ratepayers across the borough.

Mrs McFarland advised that the rates calculating process was clearly influenced by councillors’ desire to have a first class service for the residents of the borough.

She added that even with this caveat of investing in the borough’s facilities and services, it was clear that there had to be a “minimum or no impact on the ratepayers of the borough”.

She said that officers had worked to maintain the same net cost of services for 2016/17 in order to maintain a minimal rates burden to ratepayers.

“It was a very challenging process to do that,” she said.

Mrs McFarland said there had been challenges, including factoring in wage increases and pension contributions.

She added that reductions in landfill costs and “more stable energy costs” had helped negate other costs.

Alderman John Smyth, Chair of the Operations Committee, thanked Catherine and her team for “all their hard work”.

“We are on budget; careful management of the budget has allowed us to deliver what we want for this borough,” he added.

Deputy Mayor John Blair also congratulated Mrs McFarland and the council’s finance team for their endeavours.

“We do not have the Finance Team of the Year award for nothing,” Cllr Blair said.

He added: “To be where we are and to be going where we are projected to go is really quite an achievement.”

Cllr Blair said that some people will look to the negatives “if they look hard enough”, but he said the drafts rates estimates were a “fantastic example of good news”.

Proposing the draft rates estimates be noted, Cllr Blair said they would be progressed further at a later date.

Councillor Jim Montgomery, seconded Cllr Blair’s proposal and also paid compliment to the Director and her team, given the “challenges faces all public sector organisations”.

He added that the zero per cent increase for Newtownabbey, and the slight decrease for Antrim, “shows how well this council is working as a unit”.

“That we continue to deliver outstanding services at no extra burden to the ratepayers is very admirable,” Cllr Montgomery said.

The final rate will be struck by full council early next year.