Derry City and Strabane District Council has agreed its budget for the incoming 2023/24 financial year and set a 7.97% District Rates increase for ratepayers. The rates increase struck by Council today will see an average rates bill increasing by £40.74 per annum or 78p per week. The regional rate, set by Central Government, will be determined by the end of March and will have an impact on the overall rates bill.
On the basis that average property valuations are 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 rates rise was set at a Special Meeting of Council today, Monday, 13 February 2023, where it was highlighted that the last year has seen unprecedented financial challenges for Council as well as for its residents and businesses. As Council services continue to recover to pre-pandemic levels, Council has had to absorb exceptional cost pressures of over £11m arising from current inflation levels of 10.5%, pressures associated with local and ongoing national pay negotiations, rates support grant cuts, construction inflation, as well as the normal statutory pressures and growth/ service development aspirations Council normally faces in order to continue to deliver the essential services and new investment our citizens require.
Recognising these unprecedented pressures and the challenges faced by ratepayers, a Finance Working Group was established by Council last year to review all service budgets in detail and to identify efficiencies, savings opportunities and cutbacks. Following months of detailed engagement, savings and service cutbacks of over £3.5m have been agreed which include staff efficiency savings/ voluntary severance; overhead efficiency savings; income generation including increase in off street car parking, building control and commercial refuse charges and sports development grant income; reductions in street cleansing and grounds maintenance services; alternate shared opening of rural recycling centres; reductions in external service level agreements and a small reduction to festivals programme budgets; reductions to other non-core programme budgets including business support, tourism, regeneration, museum programming, Christmas lighting, investment, marketing, arts and culture, health promotion and museum programming.
The Council, along with some ratebase growth and the application of funding from Council reserves, has enabled a sub-inflationary rates increase to be achieved and for Council finances to remain on a sustainable footing as Council hopes for economic recovery and a reduction in inflation levels.
The savings identified will also enable Council to continue to deliver a full suite of critical front line services to ratepayers and any cutbacks in budgets agreed were made to ensure a minimal impact on the public with all services being maintained and jobs protected.
As part of this rates process, Council has worked proactively to maintain funding to community organisations and arts and culture groups who are reliant on Council grant
funding to deliver essential community services and projects, with the exception of some cutbacks to service level agreements to Visit Derry and the Millennium Forum.
For local businesses, the rates rise will somewhat be offset by the new Reval 2023 process has seen average rateable property values in the Council area reduced by 2.75%. Derry City and Strabane District Council currently has a total of 5,654 non-domestic properties, of which 15% are fully exempt from rates and 65% are small businesses, who can avail of small business rates relief ranging between 20% and 50% of their rates bills, and 7% are de-rated – that represents manufacturing companies for example who get derating relief of between 70%-80% of their rates bills, with the remaining 13% subject to full rates.
Despite the unprecedented challenges currently facing Council, there are several positive messages from this year’s rates process. The Council area currently has 741 new domestic properties developed providing an overall 1.04% benefit to this year’s rates process. Council has also invested an additional 1% into rates to address the impact of construction inflation and increased financing costs on its ambitious capital programme. As part of the rates process Council has made budgetary provision for £90m of community projects including the development of the Brandywell Sports Centre, the Daisyfield Pitches, Acorn Project and Derg Active Project in Castlederg supported by funding from UK Government Levelling Up Fund. Provision has also been made for the development of new cemetery provision for the west bank of the city, continued development of greenway provision within the city and across the Council area, a number of rural revitalisation schemes in Newtownstewart, Castlederg, Sion Mills, Claudy, Eglinton and Park and continued investment in community facilities, pitches and playparks.
In addition to this, Derry City and Strabane District Council continues to work towards the next state of Government approval for the circa £250m transformative strategic and economic projects through City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund. As part of this Council is anticipating sign-off and commencement of the DNA project by early 2024 and is progressing business case development on a range of innovation, digital and health projects, the School of Medicine at Magee, and major regeneration projects in Strabane Town Centre and along the City Riverfront and Walled City.
In conclusion, the agreed District rates increase whilst necessitating considerable efficiencies and cutbacks , will enable Council to continue to drive growth and investment across the City and Region as well as ensure the delivery of critical 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.
You can view the Special Council meeting back on Council’s Youtube channel. To view the agenda and rates papers in full visit - Agenda for Special Meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council on Monday 13 February 2023, 2.00 pm - Derry City & Strabane - Council