HOUSEHOLDERS in Coleraine will see an extra 49p per week added to their rates bill this year after Coleraine Borough Council agreed to its lowest domestic rate increase in ten years.
At a special meeting of the local authority on Tuesday, February 7th, members agreed to a combined domestic and business increase of just 2.88% in a bid to take the heat off struggling families and businesses.
The local rate rise, when added to government’s regional rate increase of 2.2%, gives an overall domestic rate rise of 2.5% or 49p per week for an average homeowner. The average business will see their bills jump by 2.5% or £5.23 per week.
Despite additional funding pressures for headline events such as the NW200, the Irish Open and the Olympic Torch event, finance officers were said to have made “significant efficiencies” allowing them to keep the increase to below the current inflation rate of 4.19%.
Welcoming the news, Coleraine Mayor, Alderman Maurice Bradley, said he would have liked a zero increase but cutting funding to vital services at a time when council was trying to attract tourists and investors to the area was not an option.
“We must bear in mind that 2012 will see the Borough hosting some spectacular events such as the Olympic Torch Relay and the Irish Open Golf Championship, as well as perennial favourites such as the North West 200 and the International Air Show,” he said.
“Regeneration and attracting tourists are key priorities for Council and these events are crucial elements in both.”
Presenting the proposed new rate to Councillors, Town Clerk and Chief Executive Roger Wilson, commended the work of his officers in keeping the rise to a minimum.
“Council has worked hard to achieve efficiency savings which help to mitigate the rise in net expenditure,” he said.
“In addition to reductions in overtime and absenteeism, other areas which have produced savings include: management of vacant posts, energy usage, review of contributions, review of all service budgets on a line by line basis and anticipated savings in relation to agency costs through joint procurement exercise with cluster councils.”
Comparing Coleraine with the neighbouring council areas of Limavady, Ballymoney and Moyle who announced rate rises of 1.12%, 2.9% and 1.12% respectively, Mr. Wilson said he was happy with the balance his officers had found between cost cutting and necessary expenditure.
“Council already has one of the lower domestic rates in the Province and a district rate rise of 2.88% is expected to maintain Council’s 17th position out of 26 councils” he revealed. “Rates in the borough of Coleraine are also significantly lower than in the neighbouring Council areas despite Council maintaining investment throughout the borough.
“Council remains confident that the range of services continues to provide value for money to our residents and visitors,” he concluded.
In the officer’s official report to members, Council highlighted the significant number of cost pressures faced by the local authority in the coming financial year including rising energy prices and salaries.
According to the report, waste management costs (including a further increase in landfill tax) and reducing levels of income are the main financial pressures facing Council. Landfill tax alone is estimated to cost Coleraine Borough Council approximately £1,280,000 (an increase of £160,000).
The unanimous decision to accept the officers’ suggested rate increase was proposed by Councillor David Harding (UUP) who singled out new Leisure Services Director Richard Baker for his contribution to streamlining efficiencies and seconded by the DUP’s Alderman James McClure who said he was pleased that 2.8% was less than last year’s 3.9%.
He told members: “I would still rather have seen a 0% increase but circumstances are what they are with energy costs increasing dramatically from last year.”
Adding his thanks to the officers who produced the new rate, he singled out Development Services officer Moira Mann for her dedication to inward investment and the renewal of Portrush which would play host to so many international tourist events this year.
“We have a number of essential services which have a world of income potential... and we have the premier tourist resort of Portrush which we have to look after because when it is doing well it benefits the whole borough.”
STORY BY JEFF WHYTE