Residents across Mid and East Antrim Borough are expected to be landed with a rates hike of around 10% for the year ahead.
Council members met this evening, Thursday 8th February, for discussions around the rate setting for 2024/25, and with the local authority struggling to balance the books and facing unprecedented costs across utilities, staff wages, and more, no one was expecting it to be easy.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council also revealed in recent months that it was facing a financial deficit of £7.2m as councillors approved their annual pay rise of 4%.
Councils across the province are all currently in the process of striking the rate. Earlier on Thursday evening, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council struck a rate of 3.98% with the council hailing the “lowest district rate in Northern Ireland”. On Monday night Newry Mourne and Down District Council struck a rates increase of 6.41%.
In Northern Ireland last year Belfast City Council set the highest district rate rise of 7.99%.
With the expected rates rise of around 10%, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council might well sit at the top of the Northern Ireland table for the highest hike. This rise equates to approximately £2.50 extra per week for the average household.
This evening the Belfast Telegraph reported a statement from an anonymous source described as a 'recently elected councillor' who contacted the paper to 'raise concerns about the proposed rate hike'.
"I am deeply concerned about the likely outcome of tonight's [Thursday’s] meeting and the likelihood that the council is poised to pass the cost of its mismanagement onto the ratepayer.”
The councillor told the paper that increases of 'between 15% and 19% had been tabled by “senior officers within the council”'.
The councillor continued: "Council has failed to take the rate-setting process in any way seriously and has failed to implement requests from Councillors for further staffing cuts, a reduction in agency staff and enhanced financial controls to avoid passing huge rate increases onto local businesses and the ratepayer.
“Councillors have focused on vanity projects such as preserving free car parking in Carrickfergus and Larne rather than addressing the council's financial crisis.
"At a time when other councils across Northern Ireland are poised to implement rates increases of between 4% and 8%, Mid and East Antrim Councillors have been told the lowest possible increase will exceed 10%.
“This stands likely to increase tonight and will represent a devastating increase that will cause struggling residents and businesses to suffer.
The councillor added: "Elected members will find it difficult to face their constituents if they choose to impose such an increase during an ongoing cost of living crisis."
In response to the councillor's comments this afternoon, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council issued a statement saying:
"The latest in a series of rate-setting workshops is set to take place this evening ahead of a Special Meeting on Monday at which Mid and East Antrim’s rate will be struck.
"No figures have yet been agreed and those quoted are not being considered by Members later.
"While Elected Members are yet to determine the final rate, their considerations take place amid unprecedented financial pressures and challenges faced by many local authorities, including Mid and East Antrim.
"Council will always strive to mitigate the impact of rates on residents and businesses while ensuring essential public services are protected and meet the needs of the community."
Members will meet on Monday evening, 12th February to agree and finalise the borough's rates for 2024/25.