Challenges ahead to strike rates
REPRESENTATIVES of Fermanagh District Council's Estimates Committee are finding it tougher than ever before to set the local rate for next year, Enniskillen Town Councillor, Frank Britton has warned.
A member of the Committee, Mr Britton says the group is facing "significant challenges" in setting the rates which are to be levied on householders and business owners in 2013/14.
In the past Fermanagh District Council has prided itself on delivering some of the lowest rates increases, year on year, thus reducing the rates burden for the entire County.
But looking ahead to next year, Mr Britton said the Council would struggle to maintain this standard.
"It's a big concern within the Council itself," Mr Britton said at the recent Council meeting, "How do we meet the obligations that the Council has for the next year, while meeting the aspirations of the public on the other hand? Where do we get the money? The reality is that it comes out of your pocket.
"And this year we have seen the real impact of the economic downturn and people's ability to pay. Pensioners have taken a double hit from very high fuel and heating costs and well above inflation food prices. It has hit their standards of living.
"Welfare reform is also hitting those with the least ability to pay -- the sick and the disabled.
"We also have to be mindful that we have some of the highest rates of unemployment in this County. Around 2,200 households have someone unemployed in them. You only have to ask the local debt advice centre about the levels of debt in the County -- those levels of debt are rising fastest among people who have lost their jobs in the past two to four years.
"Another significant area experiencing problems is the public sector. It is now in the third year of a pay freeze. That affects nearly 30 to 33% of the households in this County. Public sector workers have taken a 12% cut in their pay for the past two-and-a-half years and we don't know when it's going to end. Businesses are facing real difficulty in surviving too.
"It's a dreadful situation across the County and I believe it is incumbent upon us to be mindful of people's ability to pay.
"It may well mean some significant changes for us as we go about setting the rates for the new term."
With the matter due to be considered at January's Policy and Resources Committee the town Councillor said setting a realistic rate for the coming year was not going to be easy.
And, he added, the Council faces an additional pressure as the County prepares to host the G8 Summit.
"The G8 is going to be a major event in June and it will put it's own pressure on the Council," he said, "The Council is not designed to be able to afford this -- it is not designed for this kind of major international event. We really need to have the financial support of the NIO."
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 03 Jan 13