Saffron Walden Town Council approves Council Tax precept increase

Saffron Walden Town Council has approved a prudent increase on its Council Tax precept for 2013/14.

Saffron Walden Town Council has approved a prudent increase on its Council Tax precept for 2013/14. - Credit: Archant

SAFFRON Walden Town Council has approved a “prudent” increase on its Council Tax precept for 2013/14.

At a meeting on Thursday, councillors agreed a 3.7 per cent increase on its precept of £784,117 for its services, which includes looking after allotments, open spaces, the cemetery and facilities such as the town hall.

In total the town council budget for 2013/14 is £853,940 which includes the council taking a new Uttlesford District Council grant of £69,823, payable because of new Local Council Tax Support discounts reducing the number of households who pay council tax.

It means, in real terms, a Band D household will be paying £140.49 towards the town council precept this year – up from £124.75 in 2012/13, or a 12.6 per cent increase.

Deputy mayor Keith Eden said the budget had been examined by two committees over eight weeks so members had “ample opportunity to accept the detail”, while Cllr David James Sadler applauded councillors for keeping the precept increase under five per cent.

Town mayor David Watson said the rise may be “too low” in light of Government plans to introduce a cap on town and parish council precept increases next year, and he proposed a rise closer to five per cent to provide an extra £10,000 for the council, £6,000 of which could be put in reserves.

“Almost none of the facilities we run actually run at a profit. That means our only source of income is the precept,” said Cllr Watson.

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“If we restrict our ability to increase the precept by setting too low a figure this year it could have a major effect on future years when such restrictions are very likely.

“The only alternative available to us would be to cut or even abandon some of the things we currently do or to no longer support some of the groups we currently assist.”

But Cllr Doug Perry warned members from raising the precept too high.

“We have seen at district level how things can be turned around by being prudent – now it is our turn,” he said.

“While a 3.7 per cent increase is very risky, to push it any higher would be foolhardy. There is no guarantee we would get a further grant from UDC and that’s a big issue for us. Services may have to be cut [in future].

“But we have to be realistic.”

Ten councillors voted in favour of the proposed precept increase, with one abstension.

? The town council’s share of the Council Tax bill accounts for only a small percentage of the overall total. Essex County Council – which takes about 75 per cent – is set to freeze its precept, as is the fire service.

Police and crime commissioner Nick Alston has proposed a 3.5pc increase in Essex Police’s share – or a £4.77 rise for Band D residents – while Uttlesford District Council has proposed a cut in its portion by one per cent, a decision which will be ratified at full council next month.

The final Council Tax bills will be published when all five organisations have finalised their budgets.