FREE wi-fi services across five towns in the borough are to be scrapped in a bid to save the council £18,000 a year.
The five towns of Newtownards, Bangor, Comber, Holywood and Donaghadee are set to have their free-wifi services ‘decommissioned’ in a bid to save the local authority money.
The council had been providing the free wi-fi in outdoor public spaces across the five towns which had each received a new public realm scheme.
However, the decision to axe the fee wi-fi service was taken by local councillors as part of their budget savings plan for this year’s rates setting process, which will see a 6.8% rise for local ratepayers.
The free wi-fi scheme currently costs the public purse £18,000 a year and faced with rising running costs, it is understood the wi-fi is just one of a number of services that have been cut in a bid to keep this year’s rates hike as low as possible.
The money generated by rates is used to pay for public services, with bills decided against the value of a property. The district rate covers services such as leisure centre facilities and waste management while the regional rate covers services like hospitals and roads maintenance.
Councillors waived through the decision to scrap the free wi-fi without discussing the issue at a recent meeting of the Place and Prosperity Committee.
Independent councillor Ray McKimm explained lengthy discussions about which services could be cut had been held for many months ahead of the 2023/2024 rates setting process.
He said the discussions started last September and the initial estimates suggested a ‘huge hike’ in rates was on the cards.
“We were looking at almost a 20% rates increase. Can you imagine what that would have meant for businesses and homes?” he said.
“How did we get nearly two thirds of that (20% rates increase) knocked off? It was really cost cutting. Over a six month period we went through what must absolutely stay, the very basic services of bins, parks, and waste management, which takes up nearly half of the money that council spends.
“We were looking at what should be kept, what will not be kept and what we could maybe keep. Some of these were very excited meetings. At one point we were talking about withdrawing hanging baskets and flower beds but they have stayed.”
The independent councillor further explained: “We were looking at hundreds of lines of spend. We were having two to three meetings a month and going through line by line.”
Mr McKimm stressed that services that have been cut may not have gone for good and could be looked at again in the next year’s rates setting process when the energy and cost of living crises may have eased.
He said: “One of the things that didn’t make it was the town centre wi-fi. However things that are gone have not gone to the end of the age. When the rates setting comes again we can go back and see can we put the wi-fi in.”
Each committee decision must be ratified by a full council meeting held at the end of the month.