Rates to rise by 1.5%

Braid Arts Centre
Braid Arts Centre

Domestic rates in the borough are to rise by 1.5% for 2014-15.

Domestic rates in the borough are to rise by 1.5% for 2014-15.

Ballymena Borough Council struck a district domestic rate of 0.3877 at a special meeting in The Braid on Thursday night and a district non-domestic rate of 28.0667, a rise also of 1.5%.

It was the last time the council, in its current form, will strike a rate due to local government reform.

The rates rises were unsuccessfully opposed by Sinn Fein who called on council to strike a zero per cent increase.

Addressing the meeting, SF Councillor Monica Digney said: “Shame on you! These are hard times and this council, when setting this year’s rates needs to be mindful of that fact.

“I am aware of quite a few local authorities that have struck a zero per cent increase this year already, whilst maintaining excellent core services and delivering top quality capital projects.”

Cllr Digney described some of the spending contained in the coming year’s rates as “extravagant and unnecessary” and highlighted, in particular, the spending of over £100,000 on lighting a pathway through privately owned ground in the Galgorm Castle Estate, the £70,000 set aside for a legacy book and £30,000 for “Recognition Awards” medals.

“A 1.5% increase may not sound like a lot those who have a lot but it will nevertheless add to the pressure which many low income families are already under,” she said.

Formally proposing that Council strike the 1.5% in rates, Alderman Maurice Mills said: “In our last year of striking a rate we have ensured that our facilities and service delivery will continue to be at the highest level for users.”

He said increased unavoidable costs have been absorbed through efficient front line services without any additional rate burden and that council is continuing to deliver capital projects for both town centre and villages.

Ald. Mills pointed out that these included the Public Realm Scheme for the commercial heart of Ballymena, a refurbishment programme for community centres and play areas, an Enabling Scheme for projects delivered in partnership with community groups, and plans to effect a “more commercial and innovative dimension” to the Ecos Centre.

“Ever since 2007 this Council as a corporate body has been all too well aware of the economic squeeze faced by both public and private sectors,” he said.

“Over those years, Council has deliberately sought to strike rates at a measured and management level whilst providing a service, an ever improving service year on year.”

Ald Mills’ seconder, Cllr Declan O’Loan said the “11th hour intervention” to the striking of rates by Sinn Fein as “political and opportunist”.

“This is a very modest rate increase of 1.5% which represents, to the average household, 36p per week. Twenty-three pence of that goes to the Northern Ireland Executive, or Martin McGuinness if you like, 13p only comes to this council,” said Cllr. O’Loan.

“This low increase has been achieved by Council absorbing significant cost increases outside of its control, including increased energy costs, an increase in Landfill Tax and continued waste management investment to avoid waste tax penalties in the future,” he said.

When put to the vote the proposal was supported by councillors with Cllrs Monica Digney and Paul Maguire the only opposers.