Council’s £217,000 rates crisis averted

THERE will be no immediate clawback of £217,000 lost to Larne Borough Council due a generator failure at AES Ballylumford, it has been revealed.

The power station’s rates are based on output and, with the gas-fuelled generator out of commission from early December until the end of May, the council was losing revenue at the rate of £1,300 per day. As previously reported, it was money that had been budgeted for when the new district rate was struck in February, with the local authority unaware that AES - one of the biggest ratepayers in the borough - would be due a rebate. It was not known, either, for how long the generator would be out.

It had been feared that Land and Property services would seek repayment of the £217,000 from the council’s block grant in the current financial year, necessitating potentially damaging two per cent cuts across all departments. However, after chief executive Geraldine McGahey negotiated with the agency and the council lobbied East Antrim MP and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, it appears that a crisis has been avoided.

Mrs McGahey told the Larne Times: “There will be no immediate clawback,” adding that the final outcome will not be known until the end of the year.

Further detail emerged in minutes of a recent confidential debate on whether or not to proceed with the £1.3 million market yard scheme. Members voted by a majority to appoint a contractor after Mrs McGahey assured them that Land and Property Services had confirmed that they would not make any reduction in the current financial year and were investigating how they could off-set the reduction through increases to come on-stream the following year.

The chief executive explained that “additional monies” had been received through rates not budgeted for at the end of 2011-12, which had resulted in an increase in this year’s district fund.

The minutes report that in response to Ald Winston Fulton - who had asked for an assurance that “a similar situation would not arise at Ballylumford” - Mrs McGahey said no one could give such an assurance, adding that she has agreed to open discussions and have quarterly meetings with AES “so that Council could be appraised of issues they were facing, their projects and their need to find a revenue stream to help with some conversion work which European legislation might impose in 2015”.