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Editor's Viewpoint

The level of debt hanging over our councils is starting to hit home. How they spend our money must now be scrutinised

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This year ratepayers will see is a 7.65% increase in their bills from the cash-strapped Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

This year ratepayers will see is a 7.65% increase in their bills from the cash-strapped Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

Alex Dodd

This year ratepayers will see is a 7.65% increase in their bills from the cash-strapped Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

In the run-up to the staging of The Open golf championship in Portrush last year there was much talk of how it would create a lasting legacy for the area.

This year the only legacy ratepayers will see is a 7.65% increase in their bills from the cash-strapped Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

The staging of the golf tournament cannot be blamed for the rates increase - much of the investment needed to revamp the resort came from central government - but the optimism of its potential impact stands in stark contrast to the reality of the financial state of the council.

It has debts totalling £68.7m and in order to make some savings the council has agreed to shut Water World, withdraw funding from the hugely popular Airwaves Portrush airshow, consider introducing parking charges and emptying black bins only once per month.

Ratepayers are entitled to ask how the council managed to get in such a mess. Admittedly, every one of the 11 Northern Ireland local authorities is carrying debts to a cumulative total of more than £500m, but so far only Causeway Coast and Glens has hit the panic button.

Some councillors blame historic debts inherited from the previous smaller councils, but it has to be pointed out that last year was the first in four years when it increased the rates. Freezing rates is simply playing to the electorate but storing up even more trouble down the line.

At the end of the day the councillors may feel that ratepayers have no option but to bail them out, but those who pay the bills are also voters and they have at long last exercised their strength, as was shown in recent council and European elections. Politicians anger their voters at their peril.

As was suggested in this case - but not acted upon - there needs to be root and branch financial examination of every council's expenditure to see if ratepayers' hard-earned money is being spent wisely. The record of our politicians' oversight of spending public money is not encouraging.

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