Council sets lowest rates increase in five decades to continue positive growth
Monday 1st March 2021
Derry City and Strabane District Council today agreed its budget for the 2021/22 financial year with the lowest increase in the Council area in almost 50 years, representing a 1.89% District rates increase for all ratepayers.
When coupled with a regional rates freeze this will see overall rates bills increase by 0.99%.
For the average domestic ratepayer in the Council area, the decision will see the current average domestic District rates bill increase by £9.16 per annum or 18p per week. 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.
The decision was ratified at a special virtual meeting today, after a lengthy and considered process taking into account additional demands on service over what has been an extremely challenging year for Council.
Members were informed that beyond the issues presented by the pandemic, significant recurrent pressures totalling 3.09% have had to be absorbed. These include regionally agreed pay awards, insurance costs, health and safety costs, and increased waste costs as a result of significantly rising volumes and disposal costs.
Despite this, there was an underlying positive message as Members were told that, despite the pandemic, new property development has seen a 0.6% improvement in Council's rate-base. Furthermore, significant effort has continued to drive savings with further efficiencies totalling £599k realised and benefitting ratepayers by 0.99%. As a result, efficiencies realised since amalgamation of the legacy Councils have now reached a cumulative total of almost £4m per annum.
0.39% of the rates increases represents growth and new service development for Council. As well as new resources to support Irish language and climate change initiatives, this year's rate will see further investment in Council's ambitious capital plan.
Chairing the meeting, the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Brian Tierney, paid tribute to the work of officers on what has been a very challenging process balancing positive progress with prudence during these difficult times.
"I welcome today's decision by members to strike the rate at 1.89% which will allow Council to maintain the positive momentum that will facilitate progress and the delivery of a high standard of service in a sensible and sustainable way.
"This has been a year of significant pressure for local Councils who have been asked to step up and provide support and services on an exceptional level at substantial cost. Despite the challenges we have worked to adapt and risen to meet those demands, at a time when Council income has been effectively decimated. Thankfully we have been able to access significant government support, and coupled with the rates assistance for businesses, this has gone some way to alleviating pressures. It's vital that that support continues long into the next year as we continue to deal with the escalating fall-out from the Covid crisis.
"As we look towards the future and begin to move towards some form of normal life our focus must be on social and economic recovery. Just last week we signed the Heads of Terms for the £250m City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund investment plan that will bring about the positive transformation of our City and District. We need to provide Council with the resources needed to drive forward this integrated and ambitious suite of innovation, digital, health, regeneration and tourism projects and also secure Council's required match-funding contribution to the overall package of investment.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank officers for achieving the balanced budget before us today and Members for their careful consideration of the best outcome for this Council at this very challenging time."
In his report to Council members, Council's Lead Finance Officer Alfie Dallas, stressed that the marginal increase in rates would allow Council to deliver on its commitment to continue to provide the quality public services expected by citizens, and also invest in growth and development projects across the City and District. It will also assist Council in its ongoing response to the additional demands and budgetary pressures now being placed on Councils as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
"The last year has seen unprecedented financial challenges for our residents and businesses, he told members. "It is therefore more important than ever that a realistic rate is struck that recognises the challenges our ratepayers face but also sets Council on a sustainable footing to play a critical role in recovery and continue to provide the essential services our citizens require."
At the meeting members strongly stressed the need for the government to continue to offer rates support for businesses impacted by the pandemic into 2021/22.
Council's Chief Executive John Kelpie, told members that while this has been a difficult year, we should also reflect on the many positive achievements and continue to focus on progress, particularly regarding Council's substantial programme of capital investment.
"Over the last five years we have delivered over £60m in capital projects and a further £55m of projects are also progressing, many of which are already at an advanced stage," he revealed. "The new rates investment will now see further capital investment across our ambitious suits of community and strategic projects"
"Last week we saw the signing of single biggest investment package ever secured for this City and Region and with it the promise of 7,000 new jobs, £126m in new wages and £230m of GVA per annum generated for our area.
"A huge amount of work has gone into the rates process this year involving all tiers of staff to trim budgets and find savings. The result is a realistic and forward thinking plan that will enable us to continue on the positive path that we have set out.
"These are undoubtedly unique and challenging times but we can and will deliver on our commitment to the people of Derry and Strabane to realise the objectives and targets of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan and the creation of a vibrant and thriving City and District."
The Mayor ended the meeting by telling members that Council would now have the capacity to continue on its course working with all its partners to drive growth and investment and improve the wealth, prosperity and well-being of all citizens.