7.97 per cent rates hike for Derry ratepayers

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Derry City and Strabane District Council today agreed its budget for the incoming 2023/24 financial year and fixed a District Rates increase of 7.97 per cent for all ratepayers.

The decision was ratified at a Special Council meeting on Monday, February 13.

It emerged at the meeting that the 7.97 per cent increase had been reduced down from a provisional 19 per cent estimate at the start of the rates process.

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The rates increase was approved with the support of Sinn Féin, SDLP, DUP, UUP and Alliance.

The District Rate was fixed at a special meeting in the Guildhall on Monday.The District Rate was fixed at a special meeting in the Guildhall on Monday.
The District Rate was fixed at a special meeting in the Guildhall on Monday.

People Before Profit, Aontú and Independent councillors opposed the increase.

Speaking after the meeting Sinn Féin group leader Christopher Jackson said: “Derry City and Strabane District Council, like all local authorities here, is facing significant financial pressures because of years of Tory austerity cuts, Brexit, soaring energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis.

“This has been compounded by the DUP’s ongoing refusal to form an Executive which has left local councils unable to avail of the kind of rates support packages which we have benefited from in the past such as the £33 million in additional funding which Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey secured last year.

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“The failure to form an Executive has left our public services, staff and amenities even more exposed to the impact of savage budget cuts imposed by the Tory government in London."

Ratepayers have been hit with a substantial rates increase.Ratepayers have been hit with a substantial rates increase.
Ratepayers have been hit with a substantial rates increase.

Aontú Councillor for Ballyarnett Emmet Doyle, however, was among those opposing the increase.

"A 7.97 per cent rise in the middle of a cost of living crisis is unthinkable and despite all parties on Council supporting motions from Aontú in the last year to declare a cost of living emergency and even to establish warm banks, they have today turned their backs on that and added a further burden to ratepayers. It is a betrayal.

"Businesses with rent of £20k will see a rise of over £500 despite the obvious pressure many are under.

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"I have visited homes over just the last few months where two adults have been working, some of them in our public sector and they are just surviving financially. We had a choice today in Council - take on the duplication of services and the neglect of Derry by Stormont or roll over and push the responsibility onto our own people - I am not prepared to do that.”

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said: “The last thing anyone wants to do is make life more difficult for struggling families at an already hard time, but the total abdication from government for any support for councils given the challenges our communities are facing has left us in a position where rates will be increased to keep important services like bin collections running.

“We have made every effort to use council reserves and find money to resist this increase, but to ensure community services continue to function and front line staff are paid a fair wage there is little other option. Through our efforts we managed to secure a large reduction from the 19 per cent increase initially proposed, but regret an increase of any kind was necessary.”

Prior to the increase being approved an amendment not to strike a rate which was tabled by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly fell.

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Sinn Féin Councillor Patricia Logue, supporting the rates increase, said she wanted to put on record that, ‘9.15 per cent of the rates rise which we are due to strike is for pay awards for council staff’.

Independent Alderman Graham Warke said people were ‘struggling’ already and that he would not be supporting the increase.

Councillor Jackson warned that not striking a rate will result in ‘Council potentially going into liquidation’ as well as to legal challenges, cuts to services and staff being put on notice.

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin said his party would not be supporting a rates hike and ‘millions in cuts’.

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Alliance Councillor Rachael Fergson said that throughout a difficult rates process a priority for councillors and officers had been to ‘avoid mandatory redundancies and cuts to core services’.

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said: “7.97 per cent is not something we are happy about supporting but we understand there is no support coming from central government and that's where it needs to come from.”

Colr. Harkin told the meeting that ratepayers in the city were suffering from a cost-of-living crisis which had been caused by ‘corporate profiteering’.

"We are in a hardship emergency. That's what this Council voted to say over a year ago and that hardship emergency has only got worse,” he said.

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The People Before Profit councillor said increasing the rate and ‘slashing services’ will compound the crisis.

Councillor Gary Donnelly said the council was paying for services that should be carried out by regional government.

"When are we going to stand up? See all the duplication - Stormont is no longer paying for cutting the grass. They are doing it because they know this Council is going to roll over and say we need to cut the grass, we need to pay for the car parks, we need to pump money into Visit Derry. And it is going to continue and continue and continue,” he stated.

People Before Profit Councillor Maeve O’Neill also said the council is putting ‘far too much money into services that Stormont should be funding’ and described the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ as ‘a cost-of-greed crisis’, stating that she would not be supporting the rates increase.

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UUP Alderman Darren Guy said: “We would all love to see it at zero per cent but nobody put forward any proposal to keep it that low."

DUP Keith Kerrigan said: “We started at almost 19 per cent and got down to 7.97 per cent.”

He said the increase was ‘far from ideal’ but remarked, ‘There are certain members who would bankrupt this Council in the morning’.

UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said: “I've heard people mention BP, Shell, the banks. I'm not sure how they contribute to our Council finances.”