Saturday, 18 January 2020

Council set to raise share of tax by 13% to offset deficit

Henley Town Council by-election confirmed

RESIDENTS of Henley are set to pay 13 per cent more for services provided by the town council.

The council is expected to raise its share of council tax from April 1, saying that it needs to overcome a growing deficit.

This means that a typical band D householder would pay £108.50 a year, an increase of £12.62.

The council is due to set the new precept and agree its budget for next year at a meeting on January 7.

The tax increase would reduce the council’s projected overspend of £160,000 for 2020/21 by about a third.

Town clerk Sheridan Jacklin-Edward said that for many years the council had used capital receipts to help manage its finances while at the same time keeping its precept much lower than other towns in South Oxfordshire.

But with potential for the deficit to grow from £47,700 by nearly four times, a tax increase was necessary to help balance the budget.

The predicted rise is based on an increase in staff salaries, investment in public services, maintenance costs and grants to local organisations.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s finance strategy and management committee, Jacklin-Edward said: “Over the past 10 years, the operational surplus of the council has slowly transformed into an operating deficit.

“The council has a large amount of reserves, hence it has not been too worried about running a deficit.

“However, the majority of those reserves are as a result of capital receipts from the sale of land. All those are to be used for capital expenditure, which means they cannot be used to bring down the deficit. The remaining reserve is about £1 million, which sounds like a lot of money — and it is — but it is just shy of a year of expenditure.

“It is therefore important that the council looks at running a more balanced budget pretty soon.

“Although there has been a modest increase in the precept, the council has tried to keep it as low as possible.

“While that is commendable, it means we are left with a decrease in the amount of precept revenue. The level of precept has not been kept in line with inflation — there is about a £50,000 gap and that explains some of the deficit.”

The town clerk went on to explain how the number of services run by the council had grown over the last decade due to South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council no longer being able to finance them.

He said the town council should look at ways to bring in more revenue from public buildings, such as the town hall, as well as finding “efficiency savings”.

Mr Jacklin-Edward said that although a 13 per cent increase was large, it was still below average for the towns in South Oxfordshire.

“Given the level of services that the council is offering, it is still incredibly great value for the taxpayer,” he added.

The committee voted to recommend the rise with only opposition Conservative councillor Will Hamilton against the motion.

He said: “If we carry on going in the same direction it is not going to be sustainable. I don’t want to see council tax go up.

“There are certain services this council has to provide because it is our responsibility but there are services that we should be looking to seek volunteers for, or sponsorship from local businesses.

“We should live within our means. I know we have reserves, but I think we should be looking further ahead. I do want a more balanced budget but I want to have more revenue generation rather than putting up council tax.”

Mayor Ken Arlett (HRG) said that taking on responsibilities from the county and district councils had “come home to roost”.

He said: “When you look at the services we have taken on over the years, it all adds up. I think we have no alternative. If we don’t put in this increase we will lose more money year on year and eventually the investments we have will disappear.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG), who chairs the committee, said: “There is a balance between being careful with our money and providing services that we want to provide our residents. We need to take action now and we need to look at all areas of our income.

“The balance is achieved by making sure what we do spend represents good value for money.”

Councillor Laurence Plant (Con) said: “We don’t shout enough as a council about the services that we provide. I don’t think the residents realise how squeezed we are.”

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