Friday, 27 November 2020

Under-fire Tories hail debt as investment

HENLEY Town Council is set to spend up to £631,000 on community projects next year.

HENLEY Town Council is set to spend up to £631,000 on community projects next year.

The ruling Conservative group says it is investing for the long term, which will be in the best interests of the town.

But the opposition Henley Residents’ Group has branded the proposed budget “disastrous”.

The council’s finance strategy and management committee has recommended the full council approves the budget for 2016/17, which would mean drawing money from reserves and cashing in on investments.

If approved, the council would be running an operational budget deficit of £29,200 but this could be reduced once it receives its share of council tax revenue from South Oxfordshire District Council.

The council has already budgeted for grants of £100,000 to Henley Rugby Club, up to £100,000 to Henley YMCA and £75,000 towards repairs of the two chapels at Fair Mile cemetery. If these amounts are spent, it will have to cash in investments to meet a shortfall of £304,200.

The committee has also set a capital expenditure budget of £256,000, which includes £50,000 towards replacing the over-60s club’s building, creating a transport strategy and making improvements at Makins recreation ground and Freemans Meadow.

A further £100,000 has been set aside as a loan to Henley Rugby Club for its clubhouse project.

This could mean that a further £356,000 will have to be drawn down from reserves and investments.

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) called the proposed budget “irresponsible and catastrophic”.

“I think you should be ashamed of yourself coming forward with this,” he said. “What we have here is a disastrous move into the red of £300,000, a very large proportion of our investments. I don’t think this is an affordable budget.”

Councillor Gawrysiak (HRG) said he would not vote for a deficit budget and would prefer a small rise in council tax.

He said: “I am sure the residents of Henley would welcome a modest contribution to the finances and running of Henley.

“With a council tax of £87 per household we are the cheapest of any council in South Oxfordshire.”

But Councillor Dylan Thomas (Con) said this would not be well received by the “hardworking residents of Henley who are trying to tighten their belts”.

Committee chairman Will Hamilton (Con), who used his casting vote to push through the proposals, said: “It is an affordable budget.”

Savings would be made with the employment of a new town clerk and there would be “important” income from the temporary moorings.

He added: “We don’t yet know whether the rugby club will draw down the loan.”

Deputy Mayor Julian Brookes (Con) said: “This reflects the unanimous decisions of councillors over the last four months.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith (Con) said: “There are a number of high-value figures but these are all for the long-term benefit of the town — the rugby club for the children for the future of our town, the YMCA for the future, the skate park for the benefit of the town, a £50,000 transport survey looking at sorting issues for the town, money going forward for public tennis courts and money for the over-60s. I am happy to support it.

“What we are doing with our investments is to build for the future of the town, which was not done under previous administrations. End of story.”

The full council will make a decision on January 5.

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