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Rate set for 2015-2016 municipal year

Monday, 26 January 2015 10:56

The rate levy for the Borough of Douglas has been set at 402p for the 2015-2016 financial year.


The rate represents an increase of 1.26 per cent over the figure for the previous year, 397p, and equates to a rise of 11p per week for a typical three-bedroom semi-detached house rated at £116.


The announcement was made by the Leader of the Council, Councillor David Christian MBE JP, at a public meeting of the Council held on Wednesday January 28th 2015 when he presented his annual review and presentation of the budget.


Councillor Christian said the budget he presented was ‘sombre’ and ‘realistic’, one which reflected ‘austere times.’


He said that to manage pressures on the Council’s finances there could be ‘no quick fixes’ and there was ‘more pain to come.’


‘Despite those demands we have been delivering on our commitment to the ratepayers of Douglas,  making savings and funding a number of one-off projects from reserves to avoid placing any undue burden on the rate,’ he said.


The savings amounted to £416,000 and had been made in employment costs through operational efficiencies and in borrowing costs as a result of lower interest rates.


Additionally some procurement practices had been changed and the prompt payment rate discount reduced from five to four per cent. The Council would also be discontinuing printing agendas and reports and would be providing documents to Members digitally.

Councillor Christian continued: ‘We have achieved further savings by using reserves for one-off expenditure.  A major capital scheme that was to be financed through loan is now to be met from reserves, making a further saving of £270,000 over 30 years. This is putting our reserves to the best possible use. And to think it was for holding these reserves that the Council received so much criticism from Members of Tynwald in the past.’


Maintenance of the Council’s capital assets was central to the budget. A £2.9 million refurbishment of the Borough crematorium and cemetery had begun; a £5 million sheltered housing complex in Pulrose, Hazel Court, had been completed towards the end of 2014 and street lighting improvements were being made that would lead to energy savings of approximately 60 per cent.


Councillor Christian said delivering local services at a local level, a strategy with which the Council, in principle, agreed, would require ‘a viable funding mechanism.’


He explained: ‘To provide the services of verges maintenance, street cleaning and gully emptying the Council expects to receive grant funding of £689,000 from the Department of Infrastructure.


‘Minister Gawne has said this year’s proposed increase of £280,000 gate fee at the energy from waste plant will be frozen if these services are permanently passed on to Douglas, but that would still leave a difference in funding of around £410,000 to avoid rate bills increasing.


‘I am aware government must reduce its costs, but there must be no damaging impact on the rates. The Council cannot take on these charges at any cost; that is the message I have conveyed to the Minister.’


Referring to housing Councillor Christian said: ‘Building homes isn’t about policy, it’s about people.’ He went on to say that a business case would be submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care for a sheltered housing complex in Willaston where the Council’s 10-year £40 million exterior refurbishment programme was continuing. The redevelopment of Upper Pulrose, 84 new properties along with Hazel Court, represented an investment of more than £16 million, while converting 54 three-bedroom houses to two bedrooms had cost in the region of £933,000.


Turning to the renovation of Douglas promenade Councillor Christian said: ‘This Council is becoming ever more frustrated with the delays…Douglas promenade is a disgrace,’ and he questioned whether, in the current economic climate, the Isle of Man could afford an ambitious project estimated at around £20 million. ‘I believe we should lower our sights dramatically,’ he said, and called for a ‘more modest’ scheme to resurface the roadway and leave the horse tram tracks in their current location.’


The delays had also prompted the Council to defer its capital scheme to redevelop the Strathallan tram sheds and stables until 2016-2017.


The budget made no provision for pay awards. ‘Jobs before pay awards,’ said Councillor Christian, adding, ‘Any pay awards will have to come from savings and savings are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Absorbing costs such as pay rises simply will not be sustainable in the long term. More demands will be placed on our finances, not all of them foreseeable. There will be difficult decisions to make…and cuts to be made.’


Councillor Christian said that at 402p the new rate was less than inflation and less than had the waste levy been passed on. It represented ‘a remarkable achievement’ by the Council over the last five years.


‘The world is living through unprecedented economic and political uncertainty,’ he said.


‘This Council has had to decide or decline, and it has chosen to decide.’


The full Annual Review and Presentation of the 2015-2016 Budget  and a Budget in Brief document may be viewed and downloaded from this page.