Councillors divided following latest rates rise in Mid-Ulster.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Councillors across Mid-Ulster are divided by the decision to increase rates by 2.98 per cent.

At a meeting on Monday past, the Council struck the new rate which will see those who own a home with a rateable value of 125,000, the council's definition of the average rate payer, pay an extra 11.64 a year.

It is the fourth year in a row Mid-Ulster Council has imposed a significant rates rise on homeowners in the area.

Ahead of the meeting, Council officers recommended a rates rise to cover the cost of what one source described to the Courier as "big ticket projects" like the Seamus Heaney centre, dual language signage and the decision to take Greenvale Lesiure Centre back under Council control.

The decision to increase the bill by almost three per cent has split the Council chamber with the DUP and UUP feeling the increase is too high, while Sinn Fein and the SDLP have welcomed the move.

The UUP's Walter Cuddy told the Courier that he was disappointed that the rates increase was adopted by the Council as he thinks "the people of Mid-Ulster deserve better."

Speaking after the rate was struck the DUP's Clement Cuthbertson hit out at the decision to hit hard pressed constituents in their pockets once again: "Yet again Sinn Fein - the party which champions itself as being anti-austerity - and the SDLP have voted through a 2.98% increase in rates.

"I voted against this increase and also another unacceptably high proposal tabled by the UUP.

"Homeowners and businesses in the Dungannon area are at financial breaking point.

"It appears that the need to fund their divisive policies in relation to dual language signage is of greater importance to some than the financial survival of independent traders and homeowners in our towns and villages.

"It is ridiculous that no budget or cap is in place for the campaign to segregate areas with such signage.

"My party questioned this at the rates meeting and I again questioned officers at the Environment Committee, during a debate on further requests for dual language signage.

"It was again disappointing that the DUP, in line with previous meetings, were the only party to vote against this latest batch of needless signage." However, Sinn Fein's Ronan McGinley welcomed the move.

"The discussion around rates is never popular, but a decision was needed. I'm satisfied with the majority decision taken," he said.

"The majority decision will equate to an increase of 97p per month for the average rate payer. This increase will ensure that Mid-Ulster District Council continues to be ambitious, progressive and innovative.

"This decision was carefully considered, and ensures the Council is in a position to provide for residents in the future.

"It was based on sound evidence of budgetary constraints imposed on the Council, and also on future plans.

Councillor McGinley also criticised his fellow Councillors' efforts during the debate on the topic.

"During the debate some representatives sat on the sidelines, offering no constructive input.

"At times they seemed confused, requesting an increase in services and a reduction in rates, but provided no suggestion of where the resources would come from.

"Some people simply argued against every proposal made, and offered no suggestions whatsoever.

"This type of sideline action is both immature and populist, and does not offer our residents any future proofed decisions relating to service provision going forward."

Ulster Unionist Councillor and Group Leader Trevor Wilson told the Tyrone Courier he was disappointed at the level of increase, having proposed an increase of 2.2 per cent.

"We firmly believe that as prices increase across Mid-Ulster, putting more financial pressure on residents, we should endeavour to keep the rates level as low as possible.

"Our original proposal would have had no detrimental effect on the Mid-Ulster rate payers." Speaking about the rise, the SDLP's Malachy Quinn blamed the lack of action in the Executive of the DUP and Sinn Fein for the rise.

"There are a number of reasons behind this rise, not least of all the cut to the rates support grant which both the DUP and Sinn Fein refused to protect while in the Executive," said Cllr Quinn.

"The financial cost to the council as a result of the cut is 320,000.

"Mixed with the rise in inflation, the pressure being felt on services through the Council area is huge. The Council officers tried to offer alternatives such as closing leisure centres on Bank Holidays as well as a range of cost cutting ideas but these would have taken services away from the public.

"I think over the last four years this council has offered a unique service, with the Seamus Heaney Centre being built, village plans being put into action and bringing the Greenville Leisure centre back under council control.

"Part of this rate is going towards building for the future and the council has ambitious plans for area which will offer new services to the area and improve on what they already offer."


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