A special meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council met last night (Thursday) to set the district rate for the year. The meeting went on for nearly four hours and needed three recesses as councillors debated what the rate would be.

In the end a rate increase of 2.3 percent was agreed upon, this figure having been recommended prior to the meeting following work carried out by a cross party group.

There was plenty of controversy at the meeting which began with several reports delivered by council officials. The reports related to proposed budgets and were calculated around a rate increase of 2.3 per cent.

When it finally came to discussion on what the rate would be the UUP proposed a zero per cent increase. They stated that they had the savings calculated that would allow this to be implemented, however there was an almost universal backlash in the chamber against this proposal with members from Sinn Fein, the DUP and the SDLP all speaking against.

Council Chief Executive, Brendan Hegarty, also revealed that if Council voted in this manner then councillors would need to make themselves available over the weekend to assist officers in producing another budget based on the new rate, as a decision had to be made by February 15.

After a recess the proposal was voted against.

Next up was a DUP proposal to set the rate at 1.98 percent with Councillor David Mahon outlining a number of savings that his party had identified, including the stacking of council meetings on the one day and the removal of refreshments for councillors at meetings and the curbing of Council Chairperson receptions.

This proposal was met more warmly by fellow councillors but after a second recess of the night it too was voted down.

Councillor Brendan Gallagher of the SDLP, and seconded by Independent Councillor Josephine Deehan, then proposed that the 2.3 per cent rate increase be adopted.

He said that there had been significant cross-party work carried out prior to the meeting and that this was the rate that Council officers had been asked to prepare the budget on. His proposal was passed  with Sinn Fein members supporting and the UUP and DUP voting against.

But that is unlikely to be the end to rate rises for Fermanagh and Omagh rate payers as the regional rate, as set by the Department of Communities, has not yet been set.

That 2.3 per cent voted on by the Council will equate to an increase of 1.035 per cent on domestic rates bills and 0.89 per cent increase on non-domestic rates bills. The council rate makes up 45 per cent of the domestic rate bill and 39 percent of non-domestic rate bill. The rest is made up of the regional rate.

That regional rate will be set when the Northern Ireland budget is set and with no Stormont at present that budget remains in limbo. It does appear however that this regional rate will also increase so there is more belt tightening on the way for rate payers.