Broad welcome for new local rates level

Seat of Derry City and Strabane Distruct Council, the Guildhall.
Seat of Derry City and Strabane Distruct Council, the Guildhall.

A broad welcome was given by the majority of political representatives on Derry City and Strabane District Council following a special sitting on Friday to strike the new rate for 2016.

The new District Rate was struck at 28.3811 pence in the pound for businesses and 0.4425 pence in the pound for domestic properties. Overall, this represents a District Rate increase of 2.15 per cent and, in combination with the regional rate, will result in a total rates increase of 1.93 per cent for ratepayers in Derry and an increase of 2.5% for those living in Strabane.

Rates, therefore, will increase by 29 pence per week, or £15.34 per year, for an average rate payer in Derry and 37 pence per week, or £19.42 per year, for the average bill payer in Strabane.

Sinn Fein Councillor Maoliosa McHugh said: “Whilst the striking of this rate takes place within a challenging environment for Strabane ratepayers, we have worked hard to ensure that the correct balance is struck between keeping the rise to a minimum while, at the same time, making the necessary provision for the real opportunity to move decisively forward in delivering an ambitious list of projects for Strabane district.”

SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said that the 2.15 per cent increase was a balanced rate that would allow the capital works programme the city required to go ahead. It would also allow added focus on building more events to attract people into the district.”

Whilst giving his reluctant support to the rate, Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher queried the continued financial support given to City of Derry Airport. Colr. Gallagher said the company charged with running the airport “come here, year after year, looking for millions of pounds.”

He also claimed that a previously planned series of economic analyses of the airport had not, in fact, materialised, and that the £3.5 million subvention given to maintain it, if it were in the hands of the Council, would allow the local authority to borrow upwards of £30 million which could be spent on inward investment and would create jobs.

“Take this burden away from us. If this happens again, I cannot support it,” added Colr. Gallagher.

In response to these comments, Sinn Fein’s Eric McGinley said that Mr Gallagher’s words were similar to those of a Conservative Party candidate in the upcoming Assembly election who also proposed moving the airport out of local control.

Colr. McGinley said that Colr Gallagher was offering criticism, yet failed to offer any alternatives.

Responding, Colr. Gallagher said: “I think it’s very rich that Sinn Fein is implementing Tory cuts and is in bed with them up at Stormont.

“When we have to make the hard decisions about closing the airport, I will remind him of this.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said that he could not support the proposed rates figure.

“Yes, there is the issue of the airport,” he said. “Then there is the issue of the Policing and Community Safety Partnership which receives £340,000. Most people don’t know it exists.

“The City Centre Initiative receives £50,000. What are they managing? The city centre is full of charity shops and ‘pound shops.’ I do not see the value in this.”

Ulster Unionist Party Alderman Derek Hussey, said his party had no problem with the amount of money that the Council had to spend but objected to the differential between the rates for Derry and Strabane.

Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Fleming commented: “Sinn Fein has consistently argued that the rates should present council with an opportunity for investment without being punitive for domestic ratepayers and businesses.

“This has given us the opportunity to prioritise over the coming period - the construction or refurbishment of new and existing community centres; the development of a business case for a new leisure facility to replace the present Templemore Complex and the continual improvement to front line services.”