Council faces £1m rates shortfall

The Michelin factory in Ballymena
The Michelin factory in Ballymena

Mid and East Antrim Council is facing a rates deficit in the region of £1m due to closures by major employers such as JTI and Michelin.

The local authority will be hit by a 2.1 per cent reduction in its £47m district rate revenue when the multinational firms cease to contribute and employees are paid off.

The full impact of the closures may not be felt until 2017. In the meantime, Mayor Billy Ashe has stressed that while the financial fall-out from the economic setbacks will have a “significant impact for Council”, the local authority has already determined that in 2016-17 the rate increase “will be no higher than last year’s rate increase of 1.5 per cent”.

The district rate accounts for half the rates bill which businesses and households can expect to be delivered in March. The other 50 per cent is the regional rate, calculated by the Department of Finance and Personnel and ratified by the Northern Ireland Executive.

In an end-of-year interview with the Times, Cllr Ashe said: “We are in the process of setting rates for the next year and elected members are undertaking a series of workshops to best address these challenges. We are aware of the impact these job losses will have on the community, and it is our priority to be efficient and effective with every penny of rate payer money that we spend.”

In the exclusive interview, reported inside, the mayor reiterated the council’s intent to lobby Ministers in a bid to bolster economic investment in Mid and East Antrim.

He also said he believed there had been a “smooth” transition to formation of the super-council, comprising the former Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena boroughs, and listed among its achievements public realm improvements, the Gobbins cliff path opening and Carnfunnock Country Park winning Ni4Kids Magazine Best Family Visitor Attraction.

Asked if he felt that people in Larne, Carrickfergus or Ballymena feel a sense of belonging to the newly formed Mid and East Antrim borough, Cllr Ashe replied: “The individual characters of our towns and the charm of our villages will never go away – and nor should they. We can retain our identity whilst benefitting from all the strengths and powers of our new council.”