Monday, 20 November 2017

Council set to agree seven per cent rise in charge for services

HENLEY Town Council is set to raise council tax for the first time since 2014.

The ruling Henley Residents’ Group voted for a seven per cent increase at a meeting of the finance strategy and management committee last week.

It follows an online survey carried out by the group in which three-quarters of the 125 respondents said they would be prepared to pay more in council tax to fund grants to community groups.

Opposition Conservative councillors argued a rise was unnecessary and would leave the town’s pooresr residents worse off.

The Tories froze council tax for the two years that they ran the council until losing control at two by-elections in May.

Jane Smewing (HRG), chairwoman of the committee, said a seven per cent increase would mean the average band D household would pay £93.09 for services provided by the council, an increase of £6.09.

She said: “The increase we are making is what people are willing to pay and seven per cent is in line with the retail price index since the precept was last increased.” Councillor Will Hamilton (Con) said the council should look to make savings before raising council tax.

He said: “The reality is that putting up council tax hurts those in need the most and this council, in my view, should take a more cautious position.

“You don’t have to set a balanced budget, you can have a small deficit then leave it to the responsible financial officer and the clerk to deliver rather than putting it up.”

Town clerk Janet Wheeler warned against freezing council tax. She gave councillors a handout showing how a one per cent increase each year over 10 years would give the council an extra £495,000.

She said: “This shows the cumulative impact of not increasing council tax year on year. It shows the clear amount of money lost each year if you decide to keep the precept unchanged.”

Mayor Kellie Hinton (HRG) said the extra money would help the council provide services being cut by Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council.

“Freezing is not freezing, it’s a cut,” she said. “This is 12p a week to get better services. I consider it to be worth it. We know we want to keep giving out grants but we can’t keep throwing money away by freezing council tax.”

Councillor Julian Brookes (Con) said the council should be increasing its revenue.

He said: “Council tax increases do harm low income families and we should resist any increases in taxation.

“I understand the town clerk’s point but we should be resisting any possible increases by increasing revenues through buildings such as our wonderful town hall and working to make use of it.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier (Independent Conservative) said she thought an increase was necessary.

“It was a Conservative manifesto pledge to freeze council tax but things have changed,” she said.

“We have had to pick up where there has been a shortfall in services. The difference of about 50p a month does help low income groups as they lose out on the services if we don’t pick them up.”

Councillor Glenn Lambert (HRG) said: “Since I moved to Henley 10 years ago my council tax has gone up hundreds of pounds while at the same time the district and county councils have reduced investment in local services. We are trying to pick up the slack.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) added: “The last rise was in 2013-14. By keeping it the same we have cut because we have not kept pace as costs have risen.

“We do take on a great deal of extra responsibility, the things we have lost from the district and county council.”

Councillor Ken Arlett said Henley’s proportion of council tax was lower than in Thame (£145), Wallingford (£118) and Watlington (£105).

The committee voted six to three for the increase with all HRG councillors and Cllr Hillier in favour and all the Conservatives against.

The new precept will be voted on by the full council in January.

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