Mid Ulster District Council has held its rate rise to 2.98% in what it has called the ‘most challenging budget-setting year to date’.
At a meeting last night (Monday), the Council agreed the new rate which equates to an increase of 97p per month for an average ratepayer, having originally faced adverse financial pressures amounting to over £3.3M which would have brought a 7.2% increase if unaddressed.
An anticipated cut in the Rates Support Grant which is payable by central government to less wealthy councils is to cost Mid Ulster nearly £325,000, while the continued effect of costs associated with the disposal of waste for both landfill and recycling, employer costs and inflation all contributed to the financial pressures faced by the Council.
Only by absorbing costs, applying savings across its services, together with increases in leisure and parks income targets and the revision of opening hours at leisure centres, was the Council able to offset the negative impact by over £1.1M.
Despite the challenges, the Council has re-stated its commitment to investing in the future of the facilities and services for which it is responsible, together with a continued positive influence on the growth generally of the Mid Ulster district.
A multi-million pound capital programme presented to the Council set out plans for:
Investment in communities through the implementation of village regeneration plans, making real and tangible differences to communities in 44 villages across Mid Ulster, such as through the Ballygawley village enhancement scheme which is currently underway or the Pomeroy 3G pitch investment on which construction has also begun.
Investment in town centres, with plans to secure funding to undertake improvements in Coalisland and Maghera, building on the three public realm schemes valued at £10M which have already been delivered in Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt
Investment in leisure, with a £320K refurbishment programme for Moneymore Recreation Centre underway and refurbishment work at Maghera Leisure Centre with an investment value of £120K to take place later this year. These follow the successful transfer of Greenvale Leisure Centre in-house in September 2017. There are also plans to open up and improve leisure opportunities for greater numbers of local people through major future investment in Dungannon and at the Gortgonis site, Coalisland.
Investment in tourism, with £500K in DAERA funding secured for the ‘Dark Sky’ observatory and visitor centre at Davagh Forest. This £1M project demonstrates the Council’s commitment to optimising the tourism potential of Mid Ulster and builds on the national and international success of the multi-award-winning Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy which exceeded its targets in its first year, attracting over 40,000 visitors from more than 20 countries.
Investment in infrastructure and economic development by continuing to work with industry and business to support the region’s economic growth and through strategic investment in land purchases across the district and the realisation of opportunities for infrastructure projects.
Only 43% of the rates local people pay go towards funding council services. The remaining 57% funds services provided by central government, like roads, education, and health and social care.
However DUP Group leader, councillor Paul McLean has hit out at the rates increase.
Speaking after the meeting councillor McLean said: “Once again we see the Nationalists councillors voting through a rate increase on the people of Mid Ulster.
“During the year we have seen Sinn Féin make decisions for their own political gain which have cost the rate payer hundreds of thousands of pounds. Bringing Greenvale Leisure Centre back in house was a poor economic decision and only taken for political purposes.
“We have also seen an influx of bilingual signs during the year, with many more planned to come, costing all the ratepayers of this district. These political decisions have contributed to this unnecessary rate increase within our district, whilst we acknowledge that as a council we need to make some provision and plan for future infrastructure because of Sinn Fein’s past record and behaviour, the DUP group have not the confidence that monies identified will be used for these future developments but in fact be squandered and used for in-house pressures another term for political gain. The DUP party voted against all proposals to raise the rate.”
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