?Council comes under fire for sharp rates hike

Brendan Hegarty, Council Chief Excutive.

Brendan Hegarty, Council Chief Excutive.

LOCAL householders and businesses face a 2.95 per cent hike in their rates this year.
And with inflation confirmed at two per cent, yesterday (Tuesday), the signs are clear of the difficulties facing residents in the county.
The news was announced at the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council meeting last week when senior officials outlined their concern over the  significant uncertainty around central government funding due to the ongoing political impasse at Stormont.
Because of the volatile government situation and the state of the Assembly a regional rate has not yet been struck and at the meeting last week the council’s head of finance Catherine Leonard said it meant it wasn’t possible to accurately project the total rate impacts across the council area.
Officials have proposed a non-domestic rate of 20.7143 pence in the pound and a domestic rate of 0.3387 pence in the pound.
Concerned councillor Raymond Farrell felt the rise will leave it difficult for everyone in Fermanagh.
“I’m very aware in terms of businesses in rural towns like Enniskillen which are continually challenged in trying to compete with the multi nationals. Now they have been compounded by the rates issue. It is making things really difficult for the small rural business.”
He went on, “The difficulty we have here too is that there are service needs that need to be met and there needs to be investment from the local council.
“Regarding incomes there is a lot of uncertainty, fiscal issues, Brexit and of course the situation in Stormont.
“I’m very conscious that wages have not increased significantly and people like health care workers are not getting pay rises every year, just like people working in retail are not seeing increases in their wages. It’s very difficult for people at the moment with rates having an impact like this,” said Mr Farrell.
Labour election candidate Donal O’Cofaigh reacted immediately saying it was ‘an above inflation increase’.
“The council doesn’t appear to have full dsclosure of its accounts. It’s difficult to understand on what basis they made this decision when they don’t afford full transparency .
“People are under pressure at the moment at a time when public services are being cut to the bone,” he added.
In a detailed report the council’s Chief Executive Brendan Hegarty outlined ten risks the local authority had to factor into its bid to estimate its financial status in the coming year.
“As central government has yet to agree a budget, councils have not been provided with any information pertaining to the total funding available in 2017/18 from central government to provide rate support to those councils who need it.”
“We are the largest council geographically with the smallest population. You don’t have to be an accountant to work out the impact,” he said.

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