Speaking before the debate, Alliance Party Finance Spokesperson, Dr Stephen Farry MLA stated: “Councils are currently facing major hikes in the level of their District Rates for the coming financial year. With the current economic downturn and households facing increased bills and financial uncertainty, steps must be taken to minimise the impact on local people.
“These increased bills are not a product of increased costs in the provision of services. Indeed, many Councils are making huge strides to reduce costs.
“Rather, these financial difficulties are the product of major slices being taken off the local tax base of Councils through the revaluation of Ministry of Defence and other major properties, plus the effect of the imposition of the £500K cap on rates for households. There are also concerns regarding the level of vacancies, placing new properties on the valuation list, the cost of collection, and general efficiency of the Land and Property Services.
“The impact of all of these problems taken together amounts to major increases in local rates. It would be wrong to make false comparisons between the regional rate and the district rate. The regional rate has been kept artificially low by the Executive, partially at the expense of passing on costs to Councils. It is only a small element of the Executive’s income. However, the District Rate provides the main bulk of funds for Councils. Councils have very little room for manoeuvre.
“It is accepted practice when there is a differential impact from new policies and practices that some form of transitional relief should be introduced. Councils are facing major hikes in their rates, even if they make efficiency savings and cutbacks. There is only so far that Councils can go without undermining the integrity of local services. Government needs to intervene to cushion the blow to households and to protect local services.”