Sunday, 28 May 2017

Council tax to increase by 4.3 per cent despite cuts

Council tax to increase by 4.3 per cent despite cuts

COUNCIL tax bills across South Oxfordshire are set to rise by an average of 4.32 per cent.

The district council has agreed to freeze its share of the charge for the second year running but Oxfordshire County Council is increasing its demand by 4.99 per cent, the maximum allowed without calling a referendum.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said most of this was to cover the growing demand for adult social care from Oxfordshire’s aging population.

He said: “We’ve taken difficult decisions over the last seven years because we forecast rising demand for services and reducing Government funding.

“Our auditors have confirmed that our four-year budget plan is realistic and we have put in place proper resources to secure value for money at a time when other county councils are talking about unfunded gaps in their budget.”

Thames Valley Police’s demand is increasing by 1.99 per cent while town and parish councils are asking for an extra 4.52 per cent on average. This means a typical Band D household will pay £1,711.03, compared with £1,640.13 currently.

The increase will be slightly lower in Henley, where the town council is observing the ruling Conservative group’s pledge to freeze tax for four years from May 2015. Sonning Common has also frozen its share, also known as a precept.

Members of Henley Residents’ Group, the opposition on the town council, wanted to raise the precept by 2.5 per cent to fund the children’s centre and bus services, which have both lost their county council subsidies.

However, the Conservatives voted against the proposal.

In setting its budget, the district council agreed to set aside more than £1million in grants for community projects and a further £500,000 to roll out superfast broadband in rural areas.

It also intends to launch a lottery, with the proceeds going to local charities and community projects.

The council has allocated almost £99,000 towards new volunteering opportunities. It will award grants to volunteers who take up new qualifications or pay their insurance costs and also set up a service linking potential volunteers with people in need of their help.

Councillor Jane Murphy, the council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “I’m very pleased that, despite tough budget conditions, we’re able to continue offering more than £1million to help community projects in our towns and villages.”

But the council also agreed to scrap £100,000 in funding for police community support officers across South Oxfordshire, placing up to six roles at risk.

There are currently 11 PCSOs covering the Henley and Watlington police sectors. Thames Valley Police, which also contributes towards their costs, is yet to confirm whether it will bridge the shortfall or reduce the number of officers.

Henley town and district councillor Stefan Gawrysiak opposed the cut and also asked the council to include a budget for improving air quality in Henley, which was denied.

Councillor Gawrysiak said: “I was shocked and disappointed that the Conservatives on the council voted against me without any dissenting voices or independent thought.

“They said community support officers were a police matter but the clue is in the title — the community should chip in at all levels to fund them.

“They also said there were no practical measures available to tackle air pollution. It is about time we had councillors who stand up and speak independently for Henley and support measures that make our community a safer and better place.”

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