A total of 165 Mid Ulster District businesses are challenging a rates revaluation that saw their bills more than double overnight.
All of the council’s non-domestic properties, including shops, offices and factories, have been officially revalued for the first time since 2001 in a bid to save town centres and prevent more shop closures.
Those properties that have become relatively less valuable, such as those in Dungannon’s town centre, have seen their rates bills cut, while those at the margins of the town have had their bills increased significantly.
Among the victims hit hardest is a child-care centre situated at the edge of the town that has had its rates bill doubled. Also out-of-pocket are supermarket filling-stations, large retail stores such as Sainsburys and Tesco, and ATM machines, which now have an annual bill of £2,000 a year.
The changes were introduced by the Northern Ireland Assembly to rebalance the rates burden and stem the decline in local town centres, which have lost many businesses over the past seven years.
Dungannon shopkeepers have complained that since the economic downturn they have been paying more in rates than in rent.
UUP Councillor Walter Cuddy, who owns a newsagents in the town’s Market Square, said his bill had gone down, but that this was a fair reflection of the economic changes affecting the town.
“This is a lifeline for local shops and will hopefully revive town centres, which have been badly hit by the growth of large shopping centres and the arrival of retail giants who now get the lion’s share of business.
“Some smaller businesses at the outskirts of the town have been hit, too, and I have advised them to challenge the new valuations, bring in experts and argue their appeal.
“I agree with the principal of the changes in that big retail companies should pay more but some smaller businesses have also been affected.
“Traditionally, businesses in the centre of town have taken the brunt of council rates. It is only right that every one should pay their bit.”
The rateable value of a business property is worked out using its Net Annual Value (NAV).
NAV is an assessment of the annual rental value that the property could reasonably be let for at a fixed point in time.
The NAV is then multiplied by the ‘rate in the pound’ to produce the annual bill.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has emphasised that the revaluation exercise is revenue neutral.
He said: “The executive and new councils will not raise any more money because of the revaluation. However the amount raised will be redistributed between non-domestic ratepayers on a fairer basis using modern rental values.”