Ratepayers in Derry and Strabane could be left with a steep increase in their rate bills if the shrinking of support grants from central government to the new council continues, the new local authority has warned.
Local councillors have now agreed to send representatives, along with the five other least well off councils in the north, to discuss their concerns with the Department for the Environment, which traditionally issues the grants, and the Department of Finance and Personnel, which allocates departmental budgets.
Previously, the separate Derry City and Strabane District Councils, like all others across the north, received substantial baseline funding from the Department for the Environment each year, lessening the burden on local rate payers.
In less well-off councils like Derry and Strabane this took the form of a rates support grant to ensure residents in these areas are not adversely affected in terms of service provision due to less income generated from home and business owner ratings.
Based on monies received last year, Derry & Strabane should currently be entitled to £3.51m this year, but this has been cut to £3.081m, which resulted in an average 1% hike in rate bills for local people.
Derry-Strabane’s new Governance and Strategic Planning Committee was told on Tuesday as they met for the first time that there were now concerns the grant will be grants will be further reduced from next year on, and potentially removed altogether, placing a substantial burden on rate payers.
The new council’s Chief Executive John kelpie said that this potential erosion of the funding was his primary concern.
Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper welcomed the proposal to send a joint delegation.
“We are already stretched to breaking point and we cannot cope with any further cuts,” he said.
SDLP Councillor Gerry Diver said it seemed like “groundhog day” given the climate of budget cuts the council is trying to deal with.