Mid Ulster Council will be seeking to “minimise any increase for both local residents and local businesses” when it strikes the new rate for the district on Thursday.
Responding to concerns expressed by Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce, the council stressed the responsibility for setting rates lies not only with councils, but also with central government, and the Executive has already agreed a rise of 1.7% in its portion of the rates bill.
It is understood the various party groupings will be meeting with senior council executives ahead of next Thursday’s meeting to discuss the rates.
The Mail understands that councillors are aiming to keep the increase in line with the 1.7% Executive rise.
Yesterday, the Chamber of Commerce called on all the councillors and their party leaders to “exercise prudence with their decision in setting local rates.”
It pointed out that the small business sector and retailers in Magherafelt are facing increasingly difficult trading conditions in the coming year.
“Retailers and traders have to meet the requirements of the National Living wage, the cost of Auto-enrolment for employee pensions, the threat of a potential increase in the district rates and the ever increasing burden of red tape and regulation,” they said in a statement.
“All these pressures being inflicted on traders are additional to the ups and downs of a normal trading environment and the overall affect will be to reduce margins, restrict inward investment, restrict growth and will undoubtedly result in lost jobs.
“Like all the towns in Mid-Ulster, Magherafelt is still recovering from the longest economic depression in recent times.
“Many business owners are still recoiling from the recent business revaluation hikes and Central Government plan to carry out a similar exercise in 2017 based on property values taken at the 1st of April 2015.
“Central government have made their decisions on the National Living Wage and employee pensions but our new Mid-Ulster Council have yet to make a decision on whether there will be an increase in our local rates or not.
“With the amalgamation of the three former councils we will expect to see efficiencies in the running of the new council. The Chamber therefore calls on all our publicly elected councillors on the new Mid-Ulster Council and their party leaders to exercise prudence with their decision in setting local rates.
“The Chamber fully recognises all the positive work which is happening at present. The new by-pass which the Chamber successfully lobbied for will be finished by October 2016. The Magherafelt Public Realm Scheme which will greatly enhance the town centre will be starting very soon and will be completed in time for Christmas 2016.
“The new Christmas lighting scheme in the town which the chamber lobbied for many years has been very welcome. These and other schemes are all positives and the Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce have been actively working on behalf of all the businesses in the town.
“The Chamber works with all the statutory agencies and local government to get the best for Magherafelt and we would expect a favourable response from councillors in their decision on local rates to ensure that no more negatives are inflicted on businesses and indeed all rate payers in the New Council area.”
A spokesperson for the council said it is “very aware of the difficult trading conditions” for local businesses across Mid Ulster and, as the Chamber points out, it has been working and will continue to work to be responsive to local needs, to bring investment and to secure growth.
“As an organisation, the Council also faces significant financial pressures, many arising from factors outside of our control,” said the spokesperson.
“However, in striking its part of the new rate, the council will, as it did last year, be seeking to minimise any increase for both local residents and local businesses.”