Sunday, 29 November 2020

Councillors clash over seven per cent rise in town's share of tax

Henley Town Council by-election confirmed

HENLEY Town Council is raising its share of council tax by seven per cent following a heated debate between rival members.

The ruling Henley Residents’ Group proposed the increase to help offset a £36,700 deficit in the council’s operational budget for the year beginning on April 1.

It will mean an average band D household will pay £93.09 for services provided by the council, an increase of £6.09.

The council will raise £530,734 from the new precept, an extra £37,500 compared with this year.

Opposition Conservative councillors attacked the proposal during an ill-tempered council meeting on Wednesday last week, just 15 days before a council by-election.

Councillor Will Hamilton accused HRG of taking a “quasi-socialist approach” to a budget that would hurt the most needy and those struggling financially.

“Do you care about the Henley residents?” he said. “This is a tax rise that is not needed.” He said the council would receive a greater return on its investments this year as well as income from the Community Infrastructure Levy and developer contributions.

Cllr Hamilton continued: “The reason council tax is less in this town than other towns like Wallingford and Thame is that we have more generous reserves.

“Managed correctly, the precept and council tax doesn’t need to be increased.

“The Conservatives pledged to deliver no increase for four complete years.

“A more balanced budget is both possible and desirable. I will not be supporting this budget and I suggest HRG go away and sit in a room together and have another go.

“This is a Bitcoin budget, which is based on a hope and a prayer and is fundamentally mean to the people of Henley.”

Mayor Kellie Hinton (HRG) responded: “Thank you for that party political broadcast.”

Councillors Ken Arlett and Stefan Gawrysiak (both HRG) said Cllr Hamilton had presided over large deficits in the two years the Conservatives controlled the council, when he was chairman of the finance committee.

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “The pertinent thing that really needs to be reported loud and clear is that in the first year there was a deficit of minus £278,000.

“Cllr Hamilton was responsible for a deficit of a quarter of a million.”

He told Cllr Hamilton to post the figures on his Twitter feed, adding: “Be honest for once.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said that paying £93 per person for the council’s services was “stunningly good value” and pointed out that residents of Thame paid £150, Wallingford £118, Didcot £106 and Chinnor £119. Councillor David Nimmo Smith (Con) responded: “We are living in an era of fake news, not facts — we have just heard that.”

He said the operational deficit in 2016/17 was £3,500 and the Conservatives had given grants of £100,000 to both Henley Rugby Club and the YMCA and had spent £75,000 on the new skate park as well as money refurbishing the chapel at Fairmile Cemetery.

He added: “That is actually building for the long-term interests for Henley.

“We should be running down our investments to build for the future of the town, not using it to prop up our budget.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) said: “Some councillors want to cut the deficit while simultaneously increasing it.

“It’s time for some intellectual rigour from these councillors.

“By 2016/17 the first Tory budget resulted in an eye-watering revenue deficit of £278,000. This year’s projected deficit is £79,000. This is not balancing the books nor living within our means — it is hollowing out the financial reserves of this council.

“The budget we are voting on represents the start of a recovery from the financial incontinence of two years of Tory budgets. It will take several more years to achieve a full recovery.

“The arguments we have been presented with tonight by the Tories represent the inconsistent logic of Orwellian accounting against a background of their economic failure.

“They have failed to make a single concrete suggestion tonight, or at any point over the last three months of budget planning, that would reduce the deficit.

“There is some way to go before Henley finances will recover fully from being trashed by Cllr Hamilton and the Tories over 2015 to 2017. This budget represents an excellent first step.”

The tax rise was approved by eight votes to five with all the HRG councillors and Deputy Mayor Councillor Lorraine Hillier (Ind Con) in favour and all the Conservatives against.

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