HOUSEHOLDS and businesses in Cookstown and Magherafelt are in rates debt to the tune of £3.2 million.
Struggling homeowners and traders are finding it tough to pay rates bills on time with latest figures showing the amount falling into arrears on the local government tax has soared over the last three years.
Those living within Magherafelt District Council area are the worst affected, with latest figures revealing that domestic and non-domestic ratepayers are £1.8 million in debt.
Compared to Cookstown, Magherafelt has also seen the biggest increase in debt in the last three years. Land and Property Services accounts show that in 2008 £1.3 million in rate income was left unpaid.
But Cookstown has witnessed its arrears debt steadily fall from 2008 to 2011, the latest figures available.
In 2008 the toal of unpaid rates stood at £1.6 million for the district, it sharply declined in 2009 when the amount of money left unpaid to Land and Property Services dropped to £1.3 million.
This figure increased to £1.4 million 2010, followed by a slight increase last year to £1.48 million.
“I think because business has been so good here rate arrears have been falling,” said President of Cookstown’s Chamber of Commerce Brian Jordan.
“Business is driving in Cookstown and maybe the most recent trading has helped alleviate the problem.”
Mr Jordan said that although he receives numerous complaints from commercial businesses about rate levels, the general consensus among traders is that it has to be paid.
“No one is going to say that the rates are too low. It is a tax and it something that traders factor into their costs. We understand that we wouldn’t have events on Bank Holidays put on by the council or that we wouldn’t have the leisure centre if we didn’t pay our rates.”
Rates debt in Northern Ireland has soared as a whole from 2008.
In 2008 rates arrears for domestic and commercial properties stood at £124 million, but latest figures reveal that this has increased to £156 million.