A FORMER UUP chairman of Fermanagh District Council, Robert Irvine, claimed this week that a proposal to merge Fermanagh and Omagh councils is about to be binned.
The proposed reform would have seen the reduction of the present 26 councils to 11 by April 2015.
There is growing concern within Fermanagh that a merger with Omagh would mean a rates’ hike here.
Mr Irvine, a quantity surveyor and project manager, spoke to the Herald this week.
He said: “I am getting vibes there are various party politicians starting to voice opinions with regard to whether this is the right way of going forward.
“I believe the whole process is slowing down and, part of the reason is, there is a realisation now from central government that there is a huge – and I mean huge – funding process.”
He accepted that, if the RPA is binned, people might point to the £10m-£15m spent to date on it as having been wasted.
He disagreed: “My answer is, it is not wasted money if you suddenly find it’s wrong, but that it is wasted money if you go on down the line and put in place a flawed and wrong plan.”
He was concerned that central government funding to cover the cost of devolved functions to councils might not cover the actual cost, leaving ratepayers to pick up the bill.
“The Stormont MLAs, I believe, are only just starting to realise the proper consequence of this, and they’re actually starting to question what is the real benefit to the local person on the ground.
“What is going to happen, I think, is that people are actually going to start questioning our politicians why they have done this, particularly in the current very stringent economic times.”
Lisnaskea’s Chamber of Commerce, for one, has started the questioning. Recently, its President, Tommy Clarke and six members met privately with the local government minister, Alex Atwood to discuss the merger with Omagh, and its impact.
Its spokesman said the Chamber was concerned as to how Lisnaskea businesses and homeowners would be affected if there was a large increase in the rates.
“Less spending revenue affects the town and one’s standard of living. We take the perceived consequences very seriously.”
Brendan Hegarty, the chief executive of Fermanagh District Council, revealed that a rate modelling exercise carried out in 2010 identified that the differential impact in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council areas was, ‘significant’.
However, he stressed there would be a rate convergence issue in each of the new 11 Councils.
“This arises because there is no process to achieve rates equalisation in Northern Ireland and, therefore, the 26 existing Councils have varying levels of district rate.
“At this point in time, it is not possible to predict the rate for the new council (Fermanagh/Omagh), but a working group has been established by central government to consider options for mitigating against the impact of rate convergence.”
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