Rates freeze ends but 'austerity' set to continue

By Peter Winter

Reporter:

By Peter Winter

Email:

peter.winter@thechronicle.uk.com

The local council will have to find over £3m in savings next year to balance the books after members approved a minimal 1.5 per cent increase in the district rate.

The rise brings to an end a three-year freeze on the district rate unique to Causeway Coast and Glens and pushed through by the council's unionist parties.

Only the UUP remained determined to stick to zero per cent increase for the final year of this council's mandate when members met to strike next year's rate on Thursday.

Even the DUP, backed by all three of the other main parties, considered a fourth year impossible without affecting front line services.

At Thursday's special meeting, members heard staff were facing “ever increasing cost pressure” and “never ending demand for services”.

Chief Executive David Jackson suggested a nine per cent hike would be required to provide the same level of service as the previous year.

He said department heads had worked hard to come up with efficiencies, but even so a 2-3 per cent rates rise would be required to balance the books.

The most significant cost pressure faced next year is a wage bill set to increase by £3.25m.

That's because the council is planning to bring agency staff onto the payroll and adopt the “living wage” for its lowest paid workers.

In addition, said Chief Financial officer David Wright, Environmental Services were facing ever rising waste disposal charges while every other department was facing “general inflationary pressures”.

*For the full reaction, see this week's Chronicle.

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