A three per cent increase to the district rate has been agreed by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.

A major factor in the increase was a decision, agreed by all Councillors, to implement a £1.5 million refurbishment of local playparks in the short term.

A cheaper option of spending £200,000 a year would have meant the project would take seven-and-a-half years to complete.

At a special meeting in Enniskillen this evening, a Sinn Féin motion to implement a three per cent increase was passed by 19 votes (17 Sinn Féin and two independents) to 17 (DUP, UUP and SDLP councillors).

The three per cent district rate increase will apply to domestic (i.e. home owners) and non-domestic (i.e. business) rate payers.

The final rate depends on the regional rate which has not yet been set because there is no Executive in place. The Council has set its district rate on the assumption that the regional rate will also increase by three percent. However there is speculation that it could increase by more than three per cent.

Assuming a three per cent regional rate increase, in addition to the three per cent district rate increase, an average Fermanagh home owner with a residential property valued at £110,000 will pay an extra £25 per year on their rates bill. The average annual increase in the rates bill of a non-domestic property in Fermanagh will be £265.

Council officials had recommended at least a 1.68 per cent increase on the rates in order to account for a number of “significant pressures” the Council faces in the 2018-19 financial year (in addition to its playpark refurbishment)

These pressures include: a potential pay award increase of two percent or more to Council staff (the final amount has not been agreed with Trade Unions); an additional £200,000 in pension costs; a reduction in the rate support grant which comes from central government; and waste legislation commitments.

Commenting on Sinn Féin’s motion for a three per cent increase, the party’s leader on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Marty McColgan said: “It’s for council to be able to provide the services they provide.”

When asked what he would say to a business owner under pressure from rates increases, he told Impartial Reporter.com: “We looked at what the Council has to spend, we looked at inflation and we set it in line with inflation – we are really standing still with this. We are not actually increasing the rate when you look at the devaluation of money from inflation.

“Other Councils have struck around three per cent, apart from Belfast.

“1.68 per cent wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t going to provide. We have a problem where we need to renew some of our play grounds for safety and other reasons and if you run out of that budget you have to find it somewhere. And it’s good to have some money in the capital reserve so that when things do come up during the year, there will be money to plan for that.”

He added: “1.68 was the very basic figure that wasn’t actually going to provide and they (Council officer) had asked for a wee bit more comfort in order to provide a better service. We are into providing services and unfortunately the only way to do that is to have the money to do that.”

The DUP’s David Mahon opposed the three per cent increase and suggested the money for the play parks could have come from another source called finalisation money.

Last year, the district rate increased by 2.95 per cent.