First steps towards setting Marlborough's council tax level for next year

Written by Tony Millett on .

It is known as the 'precept' and it is the amount of money the town council raises as part of residents' council tax bills.  And next year it is going up.

Councillors on the Finance and Policy Committee have agreed to provisionally recommend a rise for the financial year 2017-2018 of thirteen per cent.

Several councillors were quick to say that this would mean an increase for the council tax bill on a Band D home of just 35 pence a week.  However, the council is facing some tricky decisions before they finally set this precept.

The government have yet to make up their minds as to whether they are going to cap increases made by town and parish councils to the two per cent they already set for local authorities.  Breaching the two per cent increase means a local authority has to hold - and pay for - a referendum of residents who can decide they do not want to pay the increase.

The government decision will come in January - a matter of days before the confirmed precept level for the next financial year has to be sent to Wiltshire Council.  January is going to be a busy month in the town council's offices.

Another uncertainty for councillors is the speed at which Wiltshire Council is abandoning many of its responsibilities and devolving them to town councils.  

This means, of course, for the town council more cost.  As committee chairman, Councillor Andy Ross commented on that cost: "It is coming our way - we can't stop it."

The thirteen per cent includes money for running the public toilets in the George Lane car park - once they have been refurbished.  Providing and running public toilets is one of the services Wiltshire Council has already abandoned.

But somewhere over the horizon the town council could well have to pick up annual costs of about £65,000 for services previously borne by Wiltshire Council.  Councillor Ross: "Do we want the grass not be cut, the Corner House [the old Sure Start Centre] to fall down, the Youth Centre to be boarded up and the streets left uncleaned?"

Councillor Fogg was in favour of taking on abandoned services: "I think we can do things better than Wiltshire Council."

The committee realise that some councillors will not want such a steep rise as the recommended thirteen per cent and would rather cut the town council's current costs.  Councillor Ross: "I don't know where you cut - there's nothing to cut."

Councillor Guy Loosmore backed the thirteen per cent rise and would consider going for a bigger increase before the council elections in May: "The community would be very concerned if we cut services - while Wiltshire are cutting services."

Councillor Dow was not so sure: "I am not happy to go with the thirteen per cent - but I will go with it. But no further."

The committee's recommendation will be discussed at the next meeting of the full council...and no doubt at further council meetings as well.