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Ratepayers face 2.4 per-cent hike after legal challenge

RATEPAYERS in the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area are set to face a hike of 2.4 per-cent in their domestic bill from next year, after a recent legal challenge at the Court of Appeal.

It follows a decision in September when the court handed down its judgement in the case of Mid-Ulster District Council against the Department of Environment (now the Department for Communities) in the matter of a judicial review for the redistribution of the Rates Support Grant among eligible councils.

That judgement effectively meant that the Department had to re-calculate the distribution of the grants.

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For some councils, like Strabane and Mid Ulster, the Rates Support Grant payments have gone up, although other councils like Omagh and Fermanagh and Newry Mourne and Down have seen a startling decrease in funds.

Fermanagh and Omagh Council has been told that it will be receiving £700,000 less than had originally been envisaged.

The shortfall has been covered by the Department of Communities for this current year, but ratepayers will have to pay extra in order to meet the bill from the 2019-2020 financial year.

Speaking at a meeting of the council on Tuesday night, the chief executive, Brendan Hegarty, said that the decision of the Court of Appeal left them facing a “very significant challenge”.

“We should be preparing for a very substantial reduction and on the current year that will amount to about a 2.4 per-cent increase in the rates,” he told councillors.

“There has been £700,000 lost to the council for this year, but the Department have secured a one-off payment.”

Mr Hegarty said that the decision disproportionately affected the council area even though it had sustained the smallest reduction of the three councils.

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The council is to meet the Department for Communities on the matter within the next few weeks and is aiming to have the criteria for deciding on the rates support grant revised.

News of the reduction in the payment was described as “sudden and unforeseen” by the director of Corporate Services and Governance, Celine McCartan. She said that the decision would have an impact on their spending estimates for the 2019-2020 financial year.

The three councils affected are taking legal advice on the matter, although it is expected to be some time before this is progressed.

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