Sunday, 15 December 2019

Council deficit set to increase significantly

Council deficit set to increase significantly

HENLEY Town Council’s operational deficit could rise significantly next year.

A report to councillors says the figure could rise from £47,700 to £134,300 in the year beginning on April 1.

It warns that “savings will need to be made or income increased”.

The prediction is based on a number of different factors. including an increase in staff salaries, investment in public services and general maintenance costs.

The salaries would represent the biggest spending increase of £47,000, but these are subject to an independent review by the Government which may not be confirmed until after the council’s budget is agreed early next year so a provisional rise of two per cent has been assumed.

There is also a grant to the Henley Women's Regatta of £16,700 and an allocation of £10,000 for the Climate Emergency Working Group.

The council has also pledged more than £55,000 through grant funding to a number of charities, clubs and community groups. The draft figure also assumes a three per cent increase in council tax, which would bring in an extra £36,300.

In January, the ruling Henley Residents Group agreed a three per cent rise on the tax precept to help reduce the then deficit, saying the increase was in line with inflation.

From 2011 to 2015 there was an overall surplus in the budget of £84,000 while in 2015/16 the council had a small deficit of £4,000.

The deficit has dropped significantly since the Conservatives were in control in 2016/17 when it stood at £278,000.

The council’s finance, strategy and management committee will make recommendations when it meets on December 10.

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG), who chairs the committee, said: “We would like to have a balanced budget and be in a position where our spending was equal to our income.

“On the other hand, we also feel spending and investing in the town to provide services and facilities that residents want and enjoy is important and we see that as a valuable way of spending.

“We feel that as long as the spending represents good value for money then a deficit is acceptable because the town council is in a position where it is able to bring in money from investments.

“It gives us the freedom that a lot of other councils do not have but it is not an indefinite solution. We have to be careful to make sure that it is sustainable spending and we will do everything we can to bring down that figure before January.

“It has been higher in the past and we have been heading in the right direction in the last few years. We have also been continuing to plug the gaps that the county and district councils have left us.

“We do want to keep the deficit down to a minimum so that we have money to spend in the future.

“We are currently budgeting for an inflationary three per cent rise in council tax. We don’t want to increase it more than that. Even though council tax is still less than £100 per household, these funds do add up and we don’t want to squeeze the residents of their money when they are struggling.”

Councillor Will Hamilton (Conservative) said: “The council needs to deliver within its means.

“Obviously when a council is investing beyond its means you are going to get concerns. Budgets need to be met and the council needs to meet those targets and at the moment they are not doing that.”

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