CAUSEWAY Chamber of Commerce is calling on Coleraine Borough Council to either freeze or reduce rates in a positive message to struggling businesses in the area.
The urgent call comes as the borough - and business community in particular - faces the worst economic recession in living memory.
In a media briefing with The Coleraine Times last week, members of the Chamber’s Council Board expressed grave concern over what the new district rate will be when it is struck by Council on February 14.
Board members are under no illusion that some businesses can simply not afford another subtantial rates rise. In fact, they believe that an increased rates bill could signal the end for some struggling businesses.
Speaking at the briefing in the Chamber’s Abbey Street offices on Wednesday morning, a spokesperson said the Chamber Council had “grave concerns about any rates rise which would be intolerable to both businesses and domestic households.”
The Board revealed that it had held separate meetings with political parties which sit on Coleraine Borough Council to state their case for positive action on rates.
The Ulster Unionist Party has expressed support for a rates reduction and the Chamber hope that other parties at Cloonavin will be equally supportive of their stance.
Recently Alliance, Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors on Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources committee voted for a zero increase in rates. Some representatives are even calling for a reduction.
Ideally the Chamber would now like to see a united voice on the issue from local councillors - to the benefit of its 160 members and householders throughout the borough.
Members of the Chamber Council Board also met Coleraine Council Chief Executive, Roger Wilson, earlier this month, to express their concerns.
A spokesperson said: “Any decision on rates will affect the whole community and benefit householders as well as businesses.
“In the past six years the district rate has risen 31.69 percent while the regional rate has risen by 14.13%.
“Businesses are under intense pressure as never before. We are talking about survival in certain cases.
“It’s not just businesses who have to budget. In this recession every household in the borough has to make decisions over its spending and what it can afford. We are asking Council to do the same.”
The Chamber says that it does not wish to “micro-manage” Coleraine Borough Council but insists it could cut its expenditure and make more efficiency savings to allow a reduction in rates.
Council Board members pointed out that some Councils on the UK mainland - acting on advice by central government on spending - had made savings of 25 to 30 percent.
“Does Coleraine Borough Council wish to show that it is business friendly? There have been calls at Belfast City Council for a zero increase and some want a reduction in the overall rate.”
The Chamber stress that some businesses here are facing crippling costs and that a further rates burden would make their existence untenable.
Responding to the Causeway Chamber’s concerns Council chief, Roger Wilson said: “Council is very clear on the need to control any rates increase and its own costs.
“Our councillors will be carefully considering this matter over the next few weeks, prior to making a decision at a Special Meeting of Council in early February.
“A lot of good work has been achieved during the past twelve months, including regeneration and successfully hosting a number of high profile events.
“This helps to stimulate our local economy but comes at some cost to the ratepayer.
“It should be noted that the regional rate, set by Stormont, makes up 55% of the total and this has already been struck at 2.7%.
“Coleraine is already in the lower half of the table of Councils in terms of relative cost per household and we intend to hold that position”.