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Newry Council was urged to dip into £35m reserves to lower rates but vote passed on 5.99%

Newry Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) has struck a rates increase of 5.99% despite a challenge to lower the percentage by using surplus finances.

The full council meeting was delayed for some time as legal advice was presented by a senior official “urging extreme caution” on the use of reserve money.

Downpatrick councillor, Gareth Sharvin (SDLP) alluding to the cost of living crisis, questioned the local authority CEO Marie Ward.

He said: “This council now has a surplus totalling £35m.

“We are supposed to have a sufficient surplus, an excessive one is not needed.

“I would like to ask directly to the CEO, can we not use our reserves to offset costs and strike a rate of 3.49%?”

However, Ms Ward stressed that all council capital projects were now under review as the current reserves were “already being used and being significantly reduced”.

Legal advice was distributed confidentially to all councillors present on the potential dangers of using surplus council money to reduce the rates hike.

Slieve Gullion councillor Barra O’Muiri (SF) said: “This is the lowest rate that we can safely go down to.

“It would be impossible to go down any further without jeopardising our future capital programme.

“When we had the dispute over employee wages, we were able to deal with it swiftly and avoided any strikes and that was due to our reserves.

“The rate of 5.99% is one of the lowest of all councils.”

A vote on the rate was carried by a majority with the DUP and SDLP both abstaining.

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