05/12/2005

Belfast councillors unite in attack on rates rise

Belfast councillors have united in condemnation of the 19% rise in the regional rate planned for the coming year.

The figure emerged last week at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council, at which all parties condemned the 19% increase in the regional rate next year.

Alex Maskey, Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, said: “Last year, when we were striking the district rate, the Government had already indicated a three year projection of the regional rate and said it would be nine per cent. It could rightly be expected that the decision to increase that to 19 per cent would be of enough significance to consult with us as local representatives but they choose not to.

"It is inevitable that the public will blame us for this huge rates hike but we have a duty to ensure they understand that this rates increase is not coming from Belfast City Council or the other local authorities.

“The fact is the council has been doing what it can to ease the burden on our ratepayers. We are currently embarking on an improvement and efficiency programme in order that we provide more effective and more efficient services and these announcements threaten to undermine our efforts.”

Peter O’Reilly, Chairman of the Health and Environment committee expressed concerns about the effect the cuts would have on one of the biggest issues facing local councils – waste management. Belfast City Council faces costs rising from the current expenditure of £2m on waste per year to around £15m during the next three years. Stringent EC regulations and heavy fines may be levied if recycling targets are not met. He said these would have to be passed on to our ratepayers at a time when Government has reduced the financial aid for waste management.

Development Committee Chairman Nelson McCausland said that Belfast’s tourism industry would be seriously affected by the Government’s decision to make no provision towards the work of the Regional Tourism Partnerships and in particular the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau (BVCB).

Bob Stoker, Chairman of Community and Recreation Committee, said that the rates increasing tax burden on citizens could seriously effect services and facilities provided by Belfast City Council.

The Alliance Party’s Naomi Long said that the Government has acknowledged the role that the council has played in addressing issues of deprivation within Belfast, but this was not recognised in the Government’s Draft Priorities and Budget.

David Ervine, of the Progressive Unionist Party, said it was the poorest people in the city who would be hardest hit by increased rates and cuts in local government expenditure.

(SP/GB)

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