Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Parish councils left counting the cost

PARISH councils in South Oxfordshire could be left counting the cost of elections on May 7.

PARISH councils in South Oxfordshire could be left counting the cost of elections on May 7.

Many of them have budgeted a set amount to cover costs of the parliamentary, district council and possible parish council elections.

But they could end up paying much more to South Oxfordshire District Council, which organises polling.

An email sent to parish clerks from the council’s electoral services department implies that the cost is likely to be higher than for the district council elections in May 2011 when there were problems with the ballot papers and the count overran.

It said: “As you will recall, the well publicised printing problems experienced in 2011 resulted in most of those costs being written off by the print firm.

“As a consequence parish councils were invoiced for a lesser amount than would normally be the case.

“No charge was made for the printing of ballot papers, the postal votes packs and in addition the returning officer waived his general, postal vote and count fees.

“This, together with a likely increase in postal voters and increased costs in general, for example postage charges, has made predicting costs difficult.“

The council says the “likely“ costs will range from £1,400 for an electorate of up to 300 to £5,000 for an electorate of 5,001 to 8,000.

Benson Parish Council, which would face a bill of £4,000, has already complained, saying it has budgeted only £1,600 based on the £1,200 it paid in 2011.

Chairman Jon Fowler said “It’s obviously a big increase and we haven’t catered for it in the precept.“

He said the only option was to raise the precept, which would cost every council taxpayers in the parish more.

Vice-chairman Dave Rushton accused the district council of trying to make money, adding: “I don’t believe it costs them £4,000 to run the election. How on earth can they justify that kind of money?“

Watlington parish clerk Kristina Tynan said the council had set aside £2,000 but might have to use other funds up to meet a potential cost of £4,000.

Parish councillor Tim Horton said the charge was likely to be “quite substantial“.

Philip Collings, parish clerk for Sonning Common, said his council had budgeted for £1,200, thinking that was “reasonable“ but faced a bill of £4,000.

“That’s £2,800 more than we planned, which does seem a lot,“ he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be any less expensive if the parish election is not contested.

“It’s an annoyance because it means something that we have budgeted for will have to give way.“

Peppard parish clerk Linda Collison said it had £1,900 in its reserves for the cost of an election but the council was not expecting the parish coun-cil election to be contested. Goring parish clerk Peter Clegg, said the parish fell into the £4,000 bracket but members hadn’t made provision in the budget for 2015/16 as they weren’t expecting a contested election. The council currently has nine members with one vacancy, with another member stepping down.

Woodcote parish clerk Jenny Welham said the parish would fall into the £4,000 band. Councillors were due to discuss the issue at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

A district council spokes-woman said: “The costs of elections are divided between the different elections and the figures were therefore provided for budgeting purposes.“

The calculations were based on the fees and charges agreed by the council in December and allowed for any unexpected costs.

The spokeswoman added: “Unknown costs make a final prediction difficult. Parish councils will be advised of their portion of the costs after the elections.“

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