Newtownabbey residents to see increase in rates bills
Home owners and businesses across Antrim and Newtownabbey will have a “below inflation” rise in rates bills, councillors agreed at a special meeting of the borough council on Monday evening (February 14).
The local authority approved a 1.9 per cent increase despite calls by the SDLP for another freeze.
Proposing the new rate of 0.3718 pence in the pound for domestic properties and 24.4981 for non-domestic, Antrim Alliance Cllr Neil Kelly warned that to do otherwise would result in a £1.9m deficit.
He stated the council has to be “realistic” and advised that “anything other than a 1.9 per cent increase would be ridiculous and irresponsible and potentially put jobs and services at risk”.
“I feel we have arrived at the best option for us as a council and ratepayer. The only option is to go on a 1.9 per cent increase which is an average 15 pence per week,” he said.
Seconding the proposal, Sinn Fein group leader, Glengormley Cllr Michael Goodman agreed the rise was “realistic” adding: ”We have staff to pay and services to deliver for this year and into the future. I think it is only sensible and prudent to set a rate increase of 1.9 per cent.”
Glengormley councillor, UUP group leader, Alderman Mark Cosgrove said: “I think it is a remarkable feat by our officers and members working together to achieve one of the lowest increases in Northern Ireland.”
He noted the new rate will be “significantly below inflation”.
However, SDLP group leader Cllr Roisin Lynch, a representative for Antrim DEA, stated: “We feel a zero rate would be the position Antrim and Newtownabbey should have taken at a time when our constituents are considering whether to heat their home or to eat.”
Cllr Lynch reported a 22 per cent increase in requests for help by Antrim Foodbank since 2020 by 4,285 people, including almost 2,000 children.
“The coming months will continue to bring financial strain to all residents. I just cannot support adding to that burden.”
DUP group leader Ald Phillip Brett said that he wished to “express his disappointment” at the views put forward by the SDLP.
He stated that the party had opposed “efficiency savings” at the height of the pandemic which would have cost the council £1m income. He challenged the SDLP to put forward suggestions for how services could continue on the basis of levels they need to be with a zero increase.
“We do care about our constituents. That is the reason we have put forward the proposals we have.”
He insisted that the proposal is “looking after the most vulnerable”.
UUP Cllr Jim Montgomery commented: “It is very irresponsible management of public money for anybody to limit the income without having answers as to how we are going to do it. A £1m cut in budget has a dramatic impact on services and staff.”
Cllr Goodman remarked: “I am baffled by the proposal from the SDLP coming here to cut the council budget by £1m and not presenting members with an alternative on how to do it.”
Ald Cosgrove stressed that the council “always has to take a prudent financial position”.
In response to a query over the financial viability of a zero increase, Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon said: “It would be difficult to identify how we could actually do that without having an impact on financial sustainability.” She warned that the authority would have to “identify things to be taken out of the budget”.
UUP Ald Paul Michael said: “The proposal tonight by the SDLP is to cut our services.”
The rates increase was passed by 35 councillors in favour and three against.
Local Democracy Reporter