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Council rates increase will deliver ongoing growth despite financial pressures

11 February 2022
Derry City and Strabane District Council today agreed its budget for the incoming 2022/23 financial year and fixed a District Rates increase of 3.44% for all ratepayers. This rates increase, when coupled with a regional rates freeze, will see overall rates bills increase by 1.81%.
 
The decision was ratified at a Special Virtual Council meeting today, Friday 11 February, after a lengthy and considered process, taking into account the statutory pressures and other unprecedented financial challenges facing Council, ratepayers and businesses.
Elected Members attending the meeting were informed that their decision would mean the average domestic District rates bill of £493.88 will increase by £16.97 per annum or 33p per week. They were informed that on the basis of average property valuations being lower than in other Council areas, the average ratepayer in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area will continue to pay lower rates bills than average ratepayers in the majority of other Council areas and that the 3.44% increase represents the lowest sustainable rates rise that could have been achieved without adversely impacting on Council services or programmes.
Members attending the meeting were reminded of the challenges facing Council and the additional demands and costs on its services and the importance of setting a rate that acknowledges these challenges and allows Council to continue to provide services but also places Council on a sustainable footing to continue to play a critical role in recovery and invest in growth.
The Council’s Lead Finance Officer Alfie Dallas in his report to Elected Members informed them how the pandemic has continued to pose significant challenges for Council with substantial losses to its service income and continued uncertainty around its rate-base income on which Council relies to fund 80% of its services.  He explained how additional new cost pressures have also emerged but thanks to prudent financial management during the pandemic, along with very significant Government support, including rates support for businesses, Council’s finances have successfully stabilised to ensure critical services can continue in a safe and compliant manner in the short term as it moves forward towards a positive recovery.
He emphasised to Members at the meeting that beyond the pandemic challenges, inflation is currently running at 5.4% while other global factors, including recurrent cost pressures totalling 3.55%, are also having an impact on Council.  As part of this challenging rates process, regional agreed pay awards have had to be forecast and provided for while increased insurance costs and waste budgets have all contributed to significantly rising costs for waste disposal, energy and utility costs.
Despite these challenges and rising costs, there was an underlying very positive message reiterated to Elected Members who heard that, despite the pandemic, new property development has seen a 1.17% improvement in the Council’s rate-base and a significant ongoing effort to drive savings and further efficiencies totalling £230k with efficiencies realised since amalgamation of the legacy Councils having reached a cumulative total of over £4.1m per annum.
Another very positive outcome from the rates increase is how it will facilitate growth and new service development with funding of £15k been set aside by Council for each of the 7 District Electoral Areas and Strabane Town to take forward the 8 Local Community plans. New investment has also been set aside for the Sperrin Future Search project while the rates budget will enable further delivery of Council’s ambitious programme of community, strategic and economic capital investment projects.
Members heard that to date £72m worth of capital investment has been brought forward by Council over the past few years with a further £74m of further fully funded projects that are now progressing towards delivery, including the completion of the new €9m Riverine shared space Community Park project between Lifford and Strabane and the advancement of a range of Community centre developments at Waterside Shared Village, Glenview, Galliagh, and Ballymagroarty/ Hazelbank.
Council is also significantly investing in the development of play facilities, pitches, recreational facilities and shared spaces across the Council area including at Eglinton and Artigarvan, with investment in the development of greenway provision across the Council area including Strabane, Strathfoyle and Castlederg.  Other notable investment projects currently being progressed by Council are the development of new cemetery provision for the west bank of the City as well as Brandywell Sports Centre/ Daisyfield Pitches, St Columb’s Park Acorn Farm and Derg Active following the £16m of funding successfully secured from the UK Government Levelling Up Fund.
Elected Members attending the Special Meeting heard how Council is now working towards the delivery of a further £247m of transformative strategic and economic projects and is anticipating Government sign-off on the DNA Museum at Ebrington and the Strabane Public Realm project as the first phase of delivery. Following the momentous signing of Heads of Terms last year, business case work is rapidly progressing for Council’s transformative City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund investment package that will see the creation of 7,000 new jobs, £126m in new wages and £230m of GVA per annum generated for our area.
Members heard how over £1.8m of Council’s overall budget is set aside for festivals and events and how 2022/23 will see cultural and festivals being resumed across the City and District to include the Illuminate festival this month and the return of the Foyle Maritime Festival this summer and the Halloween festival in October. In an attempt to aid recovery, Council has also added additional investment of £116k this year in response to the ever growing demand for new community festivals and events.
Chairing the Special Council meeting, the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Alderman Graham Warke paid tribute to the work of Council officers on the work done throughout the rates process.  He said: “This has been a very challenging process in a difficult economic climate but the Council team have once again approached this process in a balanced and positive manner with prudence and the best interests of the ratepayer to the fore. I would also like to acknowledge the commitment of Elected Members for their careful consideration and debate on this important issue and for taking forward an increase that is reflective of the needs of local government to deliver services in a challenging environment.
“The rates increase today will assist Council to maintain its services and ambitions for growth. It will facilitate our commitment to delivery high standards of service in a sustainable way and also allow us to drive forward our ambitious plans for investment in regeneration and community facilities.”
Council’s Lead Finance Officer Alfie Dallas in his report to members stressed that this modest rates increase would allow Council to deliver on its commitment to provide quality public services and invest in growth and development, as well as assist Council in responding to the increasing number of budgetary pressures being placed on it.
He said: “Council’s key priority this year will be to continue to work with all of our partners and Government departments to deliver on the objectives and targets of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan 2017-2030 which aims to make a thriving, prosperous and sustainable City and District with equality of opportunity for all.”
Council’s Chief Executive John Kelpie said that while it has been another difficult and challenging year, it was important to reflect on the many positive achievements and to acknowledge the Council’s resilience and ongoing commitment to provide essential services as well as progress with its substantial programme of capital investment.
He said: “The rates increase agreed today will allow Council to continue to drive growth and investment in the City and Region as well as ensure continued delivery across all of Council’s front-line services from street cleansing and waste, building control, planning and environmental health, grounds maintenance, parks and cemeteries, leisure, sport, health and community development and support, and vital corporate support services.
“The Council with this agreed budget in place will continue to work with Government and partners to drive growth and investment and continue to create an environment that improves the wealth, prosperity and well-being of all our citizens right across the Council City and District.”
For more information on rates visit – www.derrystrabane.com/rates/