Increase in rates looming

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

MID-ULSTER District Council is preparing to make "significant decisions" as fears grow over the future of a 3m grant the council receives each year.

Cuts to the Rate Support Grant (RSG) could lead to the closure of community centres, swimming pools and leisure centres across the district.

The other option is for the Council to introduce a significant increase in the residential rates bill as it tries to plug a financial hole of almost 3 million.

The Rates Support Grant is distributed by the Executive and is an essential service for poorer councils as it bridges the gap between rates income and the money needed to maintain an equal level of services throughout Northern Ireland's council areas.

The rate for 2016/17 was set at 18.3 million but due to the Stormont impasse it has been cut by 732,000 this financial year.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities confirmed the cut.

"In line with the Department's four per cent reduction for 2017/18, councils were notified that their Rates Support Grant allocations had been reduced by 4 per cent from 18.3 million in 2016/17 to 17.56 million in 2017/18," said the spokesperson.

Fears are growing that the grant could disappear altogether, with at least one other Council making plans to press the Department and its Minister to ensure it remains intact.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council voted at the end of July to seek to form a joint delegation with other affected Councils to appeal to Ministers about the need to maintain future RSG allocations.

Speaking about the importance of the grant, Dungannon based Councillor Walter Cuddy warned that if it does disappear, the Council will need to grow a "magic cash tree".

"To potentially lose 3 million is a concern," he said. "It is an area that some on the council don't seem to grasp. The grant doesn't affect affluent councils but councils like ours rely on it to an extent. It has been going for years and is now, like most things, being reduced.

"We haven't allocated any money to cover it if it was to disappear. The grant has been good to us as a council. It has allowed us to do the things we as a Council love to do like build new facilities and bring leisure centres, like Greenvale, under our control, but we don't have the capital for such things without it.

"If we lose this grant it will load more pressure onto a system that is struggling to supply what we currently do. I don't know if we have a magic cash tree, but if we are to keep rates where they are now and carry on at our current spending levels we would need to find one if we lose this grant."

Currently, six councils avail of the grant, these are: Mid-Ulster District Council (2.8 million); Causeway Coast and Glens (2.5 million); Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (3.7 million); Derry and Strabane (3.9 million); Newry, Mourne and Down (2.6 million); Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (1.5 million) and Mid and East Antrim Council (1.2 million).

Speaking about the grant, a spokesperson for the Council said: "The Council has lobbied strongly in the last number of years both to protect the grant and ensure the funding level is not reduced.

"Any reduction would impact negatively on the councils finances and would require significant decisions to be made about future budget allocation."


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