Town councillors defer decision on increasing council tax

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Flanked by a BBC TV crew, town councillors met at Saffron Walden Town Hall last Thursday (December 10) to consider the first draft budget, which has caused controversy in the town.

Under the proposed town council budget for 2016/17, households in Saffron Walden could be facing average increases of £88 in their council tax, with some facing more than £100, depending on the size of their property.

Planned refurbishments to the town hall, costing nearly £700,000, as well as earmarked reserves for improving facilities and services in the town make up the majority of the proposed budget, which is over £1million more than last year’s.

Parish, town or community councils are not currently capped by the Government, and can therefore raise the precept – the town council’s portion of council tax – as much as they want.

As reported in last week’s Reporter, the budget was set to rocket 65 per cent more than the current year, which attracted the TV cameras.

In a tetchy meeting in the very building at the heart of the proposals, Conservative councillor Keith Eden proposed that the draft should be sent straight to the committees for discussion and that a planned budget presentation should not be heard.

This motion failed and councillors were given a detailed financial presentation by David Broomfield, financial officer for the town council.

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Following the presentation, town clerk Lisa Courtney described the town council’s general reserve as “woefully inadequate” and said that councils are generally recommended to have half their annual budget in reserve.

The town council’s current reserve sits at £58,820, nearly half a million pounds below recommendations.

Residents for Uttlesford councillor Richard Freeman welcomed the forward thinking of the proposed budget and said that councils “should not be run on a year by year basis”.

Councillor Eden made reference to the increase for taxpayers, but there was little in the way of further discussion.

Town mayor Councillor Heather Asker said that whatever changes would be made to the budget, they would be made in the best interests of the people of Saffron Walden.

It was decided that the draft budget will now go back to committees with a planning, services and finance meeting scheduled for January 11, and a recreation and playing fields meeting on January 18.