Unionist objections fail to stop Mid Ulster rates rise


Despite a DUP proposal to keep rates bills the same as last year, Mid Ulster District Council voted on Monday to implement a 1.46% rise.

In a heated discussion, where three different percentages were suggested, the one originally put forward by council officers was agreed after a chamber majority voted it in.

But both the UUP and DUP voted against the rise, instead favouring a 0% increase for households and businesses.

The council’s chief finance officer told councillors at the special meeting that an estimated £40,288,641.00 was needed to fund council’s activities, but the DUP’s Kim Ashton argued that the necessities could be met with a 0% increase, with a £1.2m surplus used to keep rates the same and cover energy savings, leaving £212k for reserves - already at £3.2m.

DUP delegation leader Paul McLean has since said: “Sinn Fein have, when it suits, identified Mid Ulster as having high deprivation and poverty yet they have each year continued to put struggling businesses and householders under more pressure by raising the rates.”

At the meeting Sinn Fein originally asked for rates to be set at 1.98% because it was unclear what way the Assembly and Brexit was going to go, but after some discussion, and in a spirit of not appearing to “rail road decisions” agreed, along with the SDLP, to go with official proposals to increase rates by 1.46% for homes and 1.47% for businesses.

This means that the average £125k Mid Ulster household will see an increase of around £5.63 on their 2015/16 £390.75 bill.

After the meeting, Sinn Fein group leader Ronan McGinley said: “Some of the discussions tonight were unfortunate. I think some parties were simply being shortsighted. Responsible local government means getting the best value for money when delivering services and providing the best quality infrastructure to deliver them.”

The SDLP’s Martin Kearney added: “While the SDLP believe that keeping the rate to as close to zero as possible is the preferred option, we are minded to recommend a 1.46% rise to enable the Council to finance the Capital Projects Programme.

“Our Officers have ambitious plans for the Mid-Ulster Council and we believe that by establishing such a Capital Fund we can create both aspirations and opportunities.”

Increased in line with inflation according to Sinn Fein, it is understood Mid Ulster have the third least expensive rates in NI.

In a report issued to councillors Chief Finance Officer JJ Tohill said council should aim for reserves of one twelfth its operating costs (£40m) - which equates to £3.4m, but he also outlined how a further £4.3m is needed to fund landfill site closures.