Magherafelt Council has been accused of going on ‘a spending splurge’ and racking up £10m in debt ahead of the super council merger.
UUP Councillor Walter Cuddy claimed Magherafelt Council was saddling Cookstown and Dungannon ratepayers with the debt, which includes £1m annual costs for the new Seamus Heaney Centre in Bellaghy.
... they’ve bought the old Maghera High School building for £500,000, when it should have been bought by the local enterprise centre.
According to the Dungannon representative, the bill dwarfs that of Cookstown which will add £2.5m in debt to the Mid Ulster Council balance sheet, and that of Dungannon which will contribute £3.5m.
“We’ve done our best in the other council areas to tidy up our debt and finish off all the building projects, but over the past year, Magherafelt seems to have went on a spending splurge.
“As well as the costs of the new Bellaghy Centre. they’ve bought the old Maghera High School building for £500,000, when it should have been bought by the local enterprise centre.
“They will also have to cap a land-fill site which will add a further £2m to the debt burden.”
The cost of the Seamus Heaney Centre has been estimated at about £4.1m, but this could rise further, warned the councillor.
“Cookstown and Dungannon’s ratepayers will have to stump up £700,000 for the next 12 years, to service the debt for this building, and thereafter there will be £300,000 annual running costs.
“Already the rates have went up by 6 percent for Dungannon residents and this has come as a nasty surprise for ratepayers who had no rises for years.”
When the plans for the council merger were first revealed, Magherafelt council was held up as an example of prudence, with no outstanding debt, compared to Dungannon’s £3.5m.
However, Councillor Cuddy said that this position had been reversed.
“We’ve also seen 20 new planning posts sent to Magherafelt. So far, everything seems to be going north to Magherafelt and we are getting none of it.
“I am calling on all the Dungannon councillors to stand together and fight this.
“At the moment, it doesn’t look good from the Dungannon side of things.”
Councillor Cuddy also criticised the ban on selling Remembrance Day poppies on council property, saying that it created a cold house for Unionists.
“Historically, very few poppies were sold in any case”, he said. “However, it raised money for soldiers who were injured in any corner of the world.”