No rate rises on cards

Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.
Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.
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Craigavon Borough Council is within sight of striking a zero rates increase when the final sums are collated for 2014-15 in mid-February.

The Lurgan Mail understands that the council’s estimates working group (EWG) has reduced the protracted increase from 4.5 per cent (or £1.6m) to 0.75 per cent (£250,000). And with over a month to go, there is optimism that the zero will be reached – or even surpassed to a rates reduction.

Last year, when the council managed a below-inflation 1.59 per cent rise, the lowest increase in 16 years, and Councillor Joe Nelson (SDLP) called for a zero increase for 2014-15.

He cited the cost of “inefficient business processes, the council’s grievance culture, absenteeism and the spiralling costs of legal advice” as a clutch of reasons why the council failed to deliver the magical zero rise, pointing out that Belfast has managed a minus-two-per-cent figure.

He said, ”I proposed that we should set ourselves a challenge to set an aspirational increase of a zero rise for year 2013-14, even though we will start to feel the impact on rates of major projects like the new leisure centre and the costs of merging with Armagh and Banbridge councils under the Review of Public Administration (RPA).”

The new rate will be the last of Craigavon Borough Council before the merger, and the new super council will feel the impact of the debt accrued, especially by Armagh City Council. The next rise, in 2015, will be up to the so-called ABC Council, with the elections in May this year, and the ‘shadow’ council in place.

This time, Mr Nelson is chair of the Civic Centre’s EWG, and he said he was optimistic that the zero would be achieved. He added, “Officers and the group have worked extremely hard and we believe we can shave off the required amount to strike the magical zero by mid-February. As for a reduction, that remains to be seen.

“I felt last year that the no-increase could have been achieved, and it would be a fitting farewell if we can make it. We’ll know in five weeks!”