Ratepayers’ bills in the Mid Ulster District will rise by 1.95 percent after the council agreed to make more money available to minority languages and local arts and sports organisations.
However, the rise means that some ratepayers such as those in the old Dungannon District will see a hike of 2.5% in their bills due to the rates harmonisation process.
In all, Dungannon ratepayers will have seen their annual rates increase by just over 7% since the Mid Ulster District Council took over.
Tensions rose at a special meeting of Mid Ulster District Council last night (Thursday) after the SDLP proposed that the rates rise should be reduced to 0.8%. The move was supported by the UUP and the DUP.
Councillor Malachy Quinn suggested that the council should seek savings such as in the area of councillor wages, expenses and associated costs, the current bill for which amounts to £1m a year.
“We can’t keep using the ratepayer as a piggybank”, he warned.
“Householders are suffering and struggling to make ends meet, while many businesses may be forced to close.”
There were accusations and heated conversations when some Sinn Fein councillors were accused of promoting ‘pet projects’ and Unionist councillors of trying to undermine ‘pet hates’.
UUP Councillor Cuddy said he was disappointed that Sinn Fein were looking for more money at the last moment for ‘pet projects’ and minority languages.
Discussions intensified after council officers warned that the council could not deliver its services with anything less than a 1.7% rise.
Chief Executive Anthony Tohill said, “We have to meet the needs of our council area, and a cut at this time will have significant impact on services. I do not recommend a rate rise of anything less than 1.7%.”
The chief finance officer said there would be ‘seismic changes’ to services with the possibility of facilities such as Cookstown Leisure Centre being forced to close to make the savings necessary for a 0.8% rise.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McPeake said he was ‘flabbergasted’ by the proposal to reduce the rate rise, and asked the chamber how this cut would be made.
His party colleague Ronan McGinley also described the other parties’ proposal as ‘astonishing’ and accused them of being reckless.
After the meeting was adjourned, the Sinn Fein proposal for a 1.95% hike was carried with the support of the SDLP. The DUP, the UUP and Independant Republican Barry Monteith voted against the rise.
Speaking after the decision, Councillor Sean McPeake said, “Mid Ulster District Council is committed to delivering for the rate payers.
Equality of services is absolutely necessary. Therefore, it was important to ensure there is enough resource across the entire district for the Arts, for our sports clubs and for all our minority languages.”