Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Ruling Tories defeat bid to raise council tax by 2.5 per cent

A LAST-DITCH bid to raise council tax in Henley has failed.

Members of Henley Residents’ Group, the opposition on the town council, wanted to put up the council’s portion of the charge by 2.5 per cent.

But members of the ruling Conservatives on the finance strategy and management committee voted against the proposal, saying they had pledged a tax freeze for the next four years at the council elections in May 2015.

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) argued that the increase was needed to reduce the £19,500 deficit in the council’s 2017/18 operational budget for items such as staffing and maintenance.

He also pointed out that town clerk Janet Wheeler supported a small rise in the rate, which has been frozen since 2014/15.

Currently the average Band D household pays £87 in council tax to the council.

Councillor Reissmann said that every year the precept remained the same was effectively a cut in income due to inflation.

He said: “At full council we resolved to try to balance our books, so we should consider a proposal to increase council tax. If it was 2.5 per cent it would mean £89.17 for a band D home — that’s 4p a week.  While I don’t like putting extra tax on people, 4p a week is manageable.”

He said the income would help fund the children’s centre and the town’s bus services, which have both lost their subsidies from Oxfordshire County Council.

“There is an expectation to meet the needs of the residents,” said Cllr Reissamann.

Councillor Martin Akehurst (Con) said a 4p a week rise would still be a challenge for some residents.

Fellow Conservative Lorraine Hillier said she thought residents would understand.

“This is a small amount given what we are helping with, like the buses,” she said. “A lot of people do really value the services and we all know there is a massive number of people who really need them. With 4p a week we can make that happen.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak (HRG) argued that a 4p a week rise would be reasonable.

He said: “It will generate enough income for the things that the town should have. The buses will cost £20,000, the children’s centre could be £10,000 or more.”

Councillor Dylan Thomas (Con) said: “I don’t think it would make a material difference. The ruling group was elected on a manifesto pledge not to raise council tax and I think all councillors who ran on that should respect it.”

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said it was Conservative policy not to increase council tax.

The committee voted five votes to four against the motion despite Cllr Hillier voting with the opposition.

Meanwhile, there was a last-minute addition to the budget of £11,000 for street cleaning in the town centre. Cllr Gawrysiak said: “We had a budget for cleaning Henley for a couple of years.

“There were three cleans through the year and it kept the town beautiful.

“It also encouraged shopkeepers to take a bit of pride in their frontages.

“Last year’s clean by South Oxfordshire District Council did not include washing, it was just sweeping. Three years ago the streets were sparkling and we had made real progress. In my opinion the streets now are filthy and need cleaning.”

Cllr Hamilton said district council leader John Cotton had promised the cleans would happen and that putting money for it in the town council’s budget would not help that to balance.

Cllr Gawrysiak, who is also a district councillor, replied: “It’s bad when specific items are excluded which are needed by the town and this is absolutely needed.”

The budget is due to be approved by the full council next month.

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