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Council tax payers face precept increase of 20p a month reveals finance chairman

 

Twenty pence a month. That’s the size of the threat to council tax payers in Marlborough when the town council’s finance committee meets on Monday to consider the size of the precept for next year.

The Christmas promise comes from finance chairman Andrew Ross (pictured), who says that the low figure has brought about thanks to two factors in the council’s overall £404,227 total budget for the next financial year.

And he reveals that whether or not the increase is recommended for approval, that sum takes in the future annual cost of the town hall improvement project, which “scaremongering councillors” have falsely led residents to believe will land them with an immediate £1 million debt.

One is the fact that a small rise of 156 in Marlborough’s households – to a new total of 3,343 – automatically brings in an additional £10,000. And the other is that the current year’s budget has been under-spent by roughly £30,000, when the council had budgeted for an £8,000 surplus.

“So my committee will on Monday night be considering a very, very small increase of one per cent to the precept,”  Councillor Ross told Marlborough News Online.

“As a band D council taxpayer that would cost less than 20 pence a month, a very modest increase indeed.”

And it won’t go higher than that even if the current consultation exercise taking place until the end of the month on the £1 million town hall revamp project goes ahead -- because that cost is being spread over years to come by way of a government-backed public loan scheme.

“The way the improvement scheme is being presented by some councillors and local groups is totally misleading and is really just scaremongering,” protested former mayor Councillor Ross, a retired accountant.

“I do appreciate people’s concern when they see the leaflets that are being sent out.  However, the situation is being misrepresented.  If residents only came and talked to us, we can explain to them how the costs all fit into our budget.”

“And show them that their concerns are generally groundless. Can I sleep easily in my bed at night? I have no conscience worrying me over the effect of what we are doing.”

He pointed out that when the present group of councillors took charge of the town council’s budget five years ago they found the reserves had been reduced to a meagre £150,000 and had to place an embargo on spending for two years in order to restore the council’s reserves.

The reserves now currently stand at £284,000 in cash, a sum that is being maintained while the town hall improvement project has been going ahead, partly paid for by grants, which have restored the assembly hall as an attractive centre for events and created the new steps at the entrance.

The town council has now bought both a dishwasher and glass washer for the town hall kitchens, which makes them more attractive for events such as wedding receptions and conferences.

“Even if the consultation should prove negative, that simply means we won’t do anything dramatic,” added Councillor Ross.  “But there will still be a continuing programme of improvements.  And people won’t be worse off in their pocket either way.”

Where the town council will lose out is in the savings coming from letting the present High Street council office accommodation by moving its headquarters  back to the town hall rather waiting for another year to achieve the transfer.

“The other point is that going ahead with the improvement scheme is a substantial investment of £65,000 a year in the town that will provide jobs at a difficult time in the country’s economy,” declared Councillor Ross.

“It has always been the town council’s policy to use local labour almost exclusively.  We only go outside the town when there is no such employment available.”

“Our ambition is to improve the town hall and give it a new status, to make it the real focus for Marlborough and what happens in this town.”

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