Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Town council raises tax precept by 13% to bring down deficit

RESIDENTS of Henley will pay 13 per cent more for the town council’s services from April 1.

The council has agreed to raise its precept, or share of the total council tax bill, in order to overcome a growing deficit.

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

The increase will reduce the council’s expected overspend of £160,000 for 2021/21 by more than a third, yielding a deficit of £99,500.

Without raising the precept, the shortfall would have increased by almost four times from last year’s figure of £47,700.

This was based on an increase in staff salaries, investment in public services, maintenance costs and grants to charities and community groups.

Over the past decade, the town council has run an increasing number of services because they have been dropped by South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council to save money.

Despite the increase, the precept will remain below the average figure for towns in the district.

The council’s budget was approved at a meeting last week despite opposition from Conservative councillors.

Councillor Will Hamilton, a former chairman of the finance strategy and management committee, said the precept should increase by only 6.5 per cent and the council should look at ways of saving money and increasing income.

It could still increase it by a further 6.5 per cent the following year if necessary.

Cllr Hamilton said: “I’m concerned about this budget and how we can make sure that the deficit is less than at present without burdening the taxpayer with a 13 per cent increase.

“When I was chairman of finance, we had a balanced budget and since then the deficit has been getting worse and worse.

“We are spending too much money and need to look seriously at revenue-generating activities, which I’ve got a whole list of.

“This significant increase affects the people at the bottom of the scale much more than the people with the biggest houses. Some people find it a real burden and we should be thinking about that as a team.

“We’ve had no corporate plan over the past three years so we cannot prioritise requests for funding.

“There are times when we’re stepping in when we shouldn’t. For example, the zebra crossing in Greys Road is needed but if the county council can fund one up in Oxford they should be funding this one and not us.”

He said the council was spending statutory contributions from developers which would eventually run out.

“While it’s great to have more staff in the council offices, we are only a parish council and should be looking to make our structure more efficient,” said Cllr Hamilton.

“This council has £4.3 million in investments, an income of £180,000 from that and money from developers. Council tax shouldn’t be going up and we should compromise to find a better alternative.”

Mayor Ken Arlett, a member of the ruling Henley Residents Group, said: “It surprises me that you fail to refer back to the district council cutting money for tourism, the town manager’s post and police community support officers, to name just a few.

“You fail to mention the £300,000 deficit you ran in your year as finance chairman and you have the audacity to claim you have a list of ideas for saving money,”

Councillor Kellie Hinton (HRG) said: “I’ve never had a problem paying my taxes, regardless of my income — what matters is how it’s spent and I think we’ve spent it damn well.”

Later, Cllr Hamilton denied he had run a deficit.

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