Larne Council strikes four per cent higher rate

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THE district rate struck by Larne Borough Council will increase by four per cent in 2012-13.

After a vote taken behind closed doors on Monday night, the local authority stated that the rise to apply to both domestic and non-properties is less than inflation and maintained that it had taken steps to minimise the financial burden on rate payers by means of efficiency measures, while seeking to avoid a negative impact on services.

Last year, the council rate went up by three per cent and the previous year a zero increase was struck. The new district domestic rate will increase by 27 pence per week per £100,000 of capital value. The non-domestic rate is 25.0360 pence and the domestic rate is 0.3694 pence

Larne’s future RPA partners in Ballymena council have announced a two-per-cent rise, and a new rate for Carrickfergus was expected yesterday (Wednesday).

Alderman Roy Beggs, who chairs the Larne rates committee, said: “The rates committee and the full council are satisfied that the most stringent controls have been implemented to minimise the financial burden facing our ratepayers in the current economic climate, through prudence and careful management of council funds.

“All service areas within the council worked hard to identify efficiencies to contribute to minimising a rates increase, while ensuring that efficiency savings do not impact in a negative way on the service delivered to the public.”

The Ulster Unionist representative added that the council “recognises its responsibility to ensure adequate investment in developing the economic potential of the borough” and had developed a series of initiatives aimed at increasing employment opportunities, leveraging private investment and securing additional funding to support every effort to prepare for an economic recovery.

“Larne Borough Council supported the proposal to extend the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme for at least three years and that this should be funded through a rates levy on the largest retailers,” said Ald Beggs.

The council had agreed that the relief should be applied to all non-domestic uses, with a view to reducing vacancy levels .

“It will help get long-term empty shops (retail premises empty for 12 months or more) back in business this year as new occupiers will be allowed to retain 50 per cent empty property relief for a year,” the committee chairman explained.

The council estimates that more than 60 additional town centre businesses could benefit from rate relief, along with 150 premises with an NAV of £5,000 or less which could already be included in the scheme.

Ald Beggs reiterated the council’s commitment to “promoting and facilitating the regeneration of the town centre”, including the refurbishment of Larne Town Hall, due for completion this summer, and the regeneration of Larne Market Yard, which is to start in 2012.

He added that the council has a role in producing feasibility studies and preliminary designs required so that grants may be applied for and Government funds requested. “This preliminary work demonstrates Council’s commitment and may result in securing Government and private investment in a range of projects such as Larne Lagoon and town centre public open spaces,” he explained.

“Council is equally committed to the regeneration of our rural communities. A total of £600,000 of capital funding will be available for villages seeking funding through the Rural Development Programme. This will attract in the region of £1.2 million additional funding” said the former MP.

Ald Beggs stated: “Council has been able to minimise its rates increase through efficiency measures which have increased productivity through a substantial reduction in sickness absence and overtime costs.”

In 2006, the local authority had the highest rate of staff absenteeism in Northern Ireland, averaging 26 days lost through sickness per employee. Latest available figures (April 2011-January 2012) show an absenteeism rate of 5.8 days. The Province’s best-performing council has been Magherafelt, where the three-year average up to 2010 was 7.91 days per employee.

Ald Beggs referred to “prudent management and promotion of recycling programmes” which had delivered “significant” savings in landfill costs.

He also highlighted projects aimed at developing local tourism, including the scheme to reinstate the Gobbins path at Islandmagee and the progression of the Glenarm Masterplan.

“Council officers constantly seek opportunities for funding from external sources to help deliver improvements, and continue to work in partnership with local communities to deliver services and facilities to the benefit of all those who work, live and visit our borough,” he added.