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Ratepayers face 3% rise in district rates bills

Civic CenterRATEPAYERS in Lisburn will face a rise of just under 3% in their District Rates in the next financial year. Corporate Services Committee Chairman, Councillor William Leathem, proposed at a Special Meeting of the Council on Monday night that there should be an increase of 0-5462p or 2.96% for non-domestic properties and 0.0072p or 2.97% for domestic properties.

Mr. Leathem said the increase meant this was the sixth consecutive year in which the Council has set its district rate rise below the rate of inflation, and means Lisburn is now the lowest City Council in the district rates league table for 2011/12.

"To put Lisburn City Council's district rate into context, for an average household paying rates on a property valued at £200,000 this means an annual increase on household rates of £14.38 or 28 pence extra per week," said Mr. Leathem.

Speaking at the Special Meeting on Monday, Councillor Leathem said that this was its most challenging year in recent history in setting its District Rate.

He said the Council recognised the need to secure continued investment in the city, balanced with the provision of a wide range of ' first-class Council services to ratepayers'. Included in the Leisure Services capital development projects is the second phase of the Wallace Park re-development, with construction of a new Sports Pavilion to be completed by this Summer. Outdoor re-development of the Lagan Valley LeisurePlex, costing £1.86m, is due to begin in the next financial year, providing new synthetic sports pitches in floodlit enclosures.

Mr Leathem praised Lisburn's community infrastructure, with the Council providing community grants of £680,000 through its Community Services work and providing funding towards community satellite centres across the city at Maghaberry, Old Warren, Poleglass and Hillsborough. He said the promotion and the development of the City were especially significant in the current economic climate and outlined a range of economic development schemes including the delivery of the City Centre Master Plan, with the preparation of a development scheme for the Laganbank Quarter area, and over £1million of investment in the Stewartstown Road Environmental Regeneration Programme planned during the next financial year.

They will also spend £328,000 promoting the City through a marketing programme, including a television and radio advertising campaign.

"This incoming year has presented significant challenges to this Council," he said. "As we move forward Lisburn City Council will remain committed to the provision of the highest quality services to our citizens

Crawford urges council to share public's pain

Ronnie CrawfordTHERE was one dissenting voice as councillors agreed the rise of just under 3% in the new District Rate.

Councillor Ronnie Crawford had called on Corporate Services Committee Chairman, Councillor William Leathem, to freeze the District Rate, suggesting a number of ways to achieve this.

He said his proposal was "well justified in view of events right across the United Kingdom. The Scottish Assembly has frozen Council tax for the past three years and there is a one year freeze in England."

Mr. Crawford said with job losses and pay cuts in the current economic climate, it would be out of tune with the mood of public opinion if the Council were to impose an increased rate 'as though these things were not happening'.

"Ratepayers are also suffering - from negative equity, high inflation, loss of jobs and the prospect of increases in their mortgage payments as well as soaring oil and petrol prices.

"We have also been faced with businesses closing in our fragile city centre,' he said, adding: "we are faced with a significant number of vacant shops in Railway Street, Market Square, Lisburn Square, Graham Gardens and some of the new shops opposite the entrance to Bow Street Mall still remain unoccupied.

"Each new closure reduces footfall even further and there is a danger that increased taxation will create a domino effect from which the City may take a long time to recover."

Mr Crawford said that he believed the rates could be frozen "with a series of modest cuts."

He proposed the council reduce their annual staff salaries of around £16 million pounds by "obtaining a reduction by natural wastage" of staff, rather than seeking redundancies.

"A 3% diminution in staff salaries would save the council nearly half a million pounds and it should be left to the Chief Executive and Directors to manage the change with no compulsory redundancies," he said.

Mr. Crawford also suggested that the council crack down on those who create litter, thus reducing the need for street cleaning, saving around £50,000.

He also suggested Council publications such as City-wide should be put online, saving printing and distribution costs, and that the use of the Mayor's car and driver should be restricted mainly to journeys between the Civic Centre and the location of events.

"Members have an opportunity to share the pain of the general public by reducing their allowances by 10% and removing vice—chairman allowances altogether, as they have been in some English councils, giving possible savings of around £50,000," he said.

"I believe these measures would go a long way to ensure there is no appreciable increase in the local rate this year.

The people of Lisburn deserve no less." Responding to Councillor Crawford, Corporate Services Chairman, Councillor William Leathem said: "As Group leader I would like to commend all Councillor's for working together to ensure we can strike the best rates for ratepayers. In 2005 the DUP made a commitment that we would try and reduce the financial burden on ratepayers and for six years we have delivered below inflationary rate rises with an average of 2.91% each year compared to 9% in the previous six years prior to 2005 under UUP control.

"Councillor Crawford objected to the rate rise; he was the only one who objected, and considering when he was Chair his nickname was 'Rate Rise Ronnie', with an average of an 8% increase over two years, it's not hard to see that this is an election year.

"The DUP made a commitment we would deliver low rates and not try and pull the wool over the eyes of ratepayers, but that it made sound economic sense to have a steady growth rather than little growth this year and huge growth next year. Ratepayers deserve better, which I believe we have delivered in the most stringent and difficult time in recent history."

Ronnie Crawford

Ulster Star