Mayor Michaela Boyle on 3.37% rate increase and Derry City and Strabane District Council budget for 2020/21

Today, Derry City and Strabane District Council has agreed its budget for the incoming 2020/21 financial year.

Monday, 10th February 2020, 6:52 pm
Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor Michaela Boyle.

As Mayor, I want to record my thanks to Members and Officers for all their work in what has been a challenging rates process and confirm that Derry City and Strabane District Council has made and fixed a District rate of 30.3794p in the £ for Non-Domestic properties and of 0.5009p in the £ for Domestic properties for the year ending 31st March 2021.

For an average domestic ratepayer in this Council area, this represents a District Rate increase of 3.37% and will see the current average domestic District rates bill of £468.82 increase by £15.80 per annum or 30p per week.

On the basis of average property valuations being lower than in other Council areas, the average ratepayer in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area will continue to pay lower rates bills than average ratepayers in the majority of other Council areas.

For business ratepayers, the results of “Reval 2020” have been incorporated in this year’s rate. As a result, non-domestic ratepayers whose property value has remained the same following this exercise will see their rates bills reduce by 2.24%.

It is really important that a realistic rate is struck that sets Council on a sustainable footing to continue to provide the essential services our citizens require whilst recognising the challenges our ratepayers face.

Significant pressures have had to be absorbed. In particular, waste budgets have had to be increased to reflect significantly rising disposal costs and falling commodity values, regionally agreed pay awards have had to be absorbed and it is pleasing to report that this Council is one of the leading NI Councils in terms of progression of pay harmonisation following the amalgamation of legacy Councils with additional costs now fully budgeted for.

Against this, there are again a number of very positive messages from this year’s rates process. Our efficiency programme has continued with a positive rates impact of 0.4% bringing total efficiencies realised since amalgamation of the legacy Councils to almost £3.35m per annum.

775 new domestic properties have been built in our area over the last year and our non-domestic ratebase has continued to grow above the NI average. Building on the investment of the last couple of years in our ambitious capital plan, our community services provision, festivals and events and cultural venues, this is again a rates picture of growth and provision of new and enhanced services across the Council area.

Council’s key priority this year will be to continue to work with all of our partners and Government departments to deliver on the objectives and targets of the now agreed Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan 2017-2030 which aims to make a thriving, prosperous and sustainable City and District with equality of opportunity for all. In line with this, it is pleasing that funding of £15k has been set aside by Council for each of the 7 District Electoral Areas and Strabane Town to take forward the 8 Local Community plans.

New investment has also been set aside for the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities & Communities Programme, new community services as well as the employment of a new Town Centre manager in Strabane.

Council’s ambitious capital programme continues to progress. Having already completed £53m of capital projects in the last 4 years, a further £70m of projects are progressing and 2020/21 will see advancement of a wide range of exciting projects, including:-

· Progression of 3 significant cross border greenway developments from Derry to Buncrana, Derry to Muff and Strabane to Lifford totalling €20m

· Development of the new €9m Riverine shared space Community Park project between Lifford and Strabane.

· Advancement of a range of Community centre developments at Top of the Hill, Waterside Shared Village, Glenview, Shantallow, Galliagh, Culmore and Ballymagroarty/ Hazelbank.

· Continued development of play facilities, pitches and shared spaces across the Council area including at Artigarvan, Castlederg, Donemana, Magheramason, Newtownstewart and Sion Mills, Mourne Park and Newbuildings.

Building on this substantial programme of capital investment, Council has also now earmarked £25m of funding for critical catalyst projects and is rapidly working towards agreement of Heads of Terms for City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund following the announcement by the UK Government in May 2019 of a substantial £105 million package for the Derry-Londonderry and Strabane City region.

Council is anticipating that a further minimum £50m of match funding from NI Executive will shortly be confirmed. This catalyst investment will see investment in a range of innovation and digital projects, the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee, skills projects, and major regeneration projects in Strabane Town Centre and along the City Riverfront.

With over £1.8m of our overall budget set aside for festivals and events, 2020/21 will see a continued impressive cultural and festivals offering across the District building on the current record levels of hotel occupancy and reflecting our success in hosting internationally renowned events.

This summer will see the welcome return of the Foyle Maritime Festival as part of its international programme of events, and following securing the title of world’s best Halloween destination, plans are continuing for another hugely successful festival in October that is set to attract almost 200,000 visitors to our unique celebrations.

Finally, it is disappointing to note the significant pressures now placed on Councils, in particular the less wealthy and most deprived Councils, where further anticipated Central Government budget cuts to the Rates Support Grant in particular have had significant impact.

These cuts have had a direct District rates impact of 0.55% and this Council, along with the other 6 impacted Councils, is hopeful that ongoing engagement with Central Government in the coming weeks will see these cuts being reversed and further monies being made available towards our ambitious capital programme and other growth initiatives.

In conclusion, the agreed District rates increase will continue to drive growth and investment in the City and Region as well as ensure continued delivery across all of Council’s front-line services from street cleansing and waste, building control, planning and environmental health, grounds maintenance, parks and cemeteries, leisure, sport, health and community development and support, and vital corporate support services.