Rate increase goes through despite objections

Maoliosa McHugh
Maoliosa McHugh

Derry and Strabane Councillors have failed to reach unanimous agreement on the rates for the region.

But despite objections from the independent minority, the 31 Sinn Fein, SDLP, DUP and UUP Councillors present at the meeting of the new shadow council at the Guildhall on Thursday afternoon agreed to vote through an increase of 1.29% for ratepayers in Derry and 5.23% increase in Strabane.

The increase means that residents in Derry will see their rates bill increase by an average of £10.28p a year or 20p per week.

In Strabane the average rates will go up by more than three times that- £37.46p a year, or 72p a week.

The majority of business owners across the region will see a rates reduction.

The Councillors present at the meeting stressed that the bulk of the increase was as a direct result of central government imposed cutbacks and the cost of the amalgamation of the two councils.

Proposing that the council accept the respective increases, Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion pointed out that there was now just six weeks before the new supercouncil officially took over the reigns from Derry City Council and Strabane District Council.

“It is a historic time, a time of challenge, a time of opportunity,” she said.

She added that central government reassessments- particularly in relation to Strabane- had led to unfair penalties for the new council “which already faces up to some of the highest levels of deprivation and economic need across the north”.

“The rates increase, therefore is largely down to factors beyond our Council’s control,” she said.

Seconding the proposal to accept the rates, SDLP Councillor Gerry Diver said: “In the circumstances we find ourselves at the minute, a good job has been done. Of course we want to keep any rates rise to the absolute minimum.”

Speaking on behalf of the DUP, Councillor Gary Middleton said his party “accepts this is the best position we can be in in difficult circumstances”.

UUP Councillor Derek Hussey said his party too would be endorsing the recommendations, adding that the new council “had a duty now to work for all our citizens”.

The recommendations were passed, despite opposition from all four Independent Councillors.

Colr. Gary Donnelly said that the council was being asked to cover up for the failures and bad practices of governments and bankers.

“You only have to look out the window to see the only businesses doing well are the charity shops”, he said.

Speaking about the council subsidised City of Derry Airport, he added: “There will be tumbleweeds blowing across Guildhall Square and they will still be asking us to pour money into the airport.”

Fellow Independent Dee Quigley said: “I will not go to the public and pretend we are doing a good job when people will be worse off at the first hurdle.”

Darren O’Reilly added that in meetings with Ministers and others to discuss their concerns the Independents had faced “brick walls” of cold indifference.

Strabane Independent Paul Gallagher said that the Review of Public Administration had been sold under the promise there would be no rates hike but said that this has not materialised.

Presiding at the meeting in the Guildhall, Council Chairman, Sinn Fein Councillor Maoliosa McHugh said the average ratepayers in Derry and Strabane will “continue to pay lower rates bills than average ratepayers in the majority of other Council areas” during the 2015/ 2016 year.