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DISTRICT DEEPER IN DEBT

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

MID-ULSTER Council more than doubled its loan debt in the first year of its existence, the Courier can reveal.

Within 12 months of coming into being, the Council moved from 5.2 million of loan debt to 10.8 million, an increase of 107%.

It is one of only three of the 11 Councils in the country which saw its loan debt increase between 31st March, 2015 and the same date in 2016.

And it recorded by far the largest percentage increase in loan debt.

Only Belfast City Council (50%) and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (2.3%) recorded increases in their loan debt between the same dates.

And this massive increase in debt of 5.6 million in just 12 months came despite the new Supercouncil imposing rates rises in April 2015 of very nearly six per cent on householders in Dungannon and Magherafelt, and around three per cent on those in Cookstown.

The rates increase for those moving from Dungannon and Magherafelt Councils into Mid-Ulster were two of the three highest rises for residents out of the 26 former Councils in Northern Ireland.

 

And rates rises have continued above inflation in the district for each of the two years since.

The details were released as part of the (Northern Ireland Audit Office) Local Government Audit Report.

It is likely that much of the increase in loan debt has been accrued through capital projects as the report states that "a large proportion of Councils' capital expenditure is financed from borrowing".

The most notable of the capital projects progressed in the opening year of the Council was the Seamus Heaney HomePlace Centre in Bellaghy, which cost in the region of 4.2 million, with less than 1 million outside funding being received from then Culture Minister Caral ni Chiulin after the project had already received the green light.

Concerns have also been expressed recently about the potential expenditure of the Council in taking on liability for all the running costs of Greenvale Leisure Centre in Magherafelt. The Council took advantage of a break clause in the contract with a private firm which had taken on the management of the centre. However, it is understood breaking the contract cost the Council 500,000, while they will also have to absorb the anticipated 1 million annual running cost of the centre. This expenditure was not budgeted for in the setting of the rates and it is not yet clear how the Council plans to meet these latest costs.

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