Swaffham town council imposes 5.3 per cent precept rise

The Buttercross in Swaffham. ENGANL00120140402160040
The Buttercross in Swaffham. ENGANL00120140402160040
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Residents will pay at least £5 more for services in Swaffham from April after the town council this week agreed its budget for the coming year.

The authority voted to raise its precept by 5.3 per cent in 2016-17 during a meeting of its finance committee on Monday.

The move will add £7 to the annual bill for an average band D property, taking the council’s portion of their tax to £139.67.

But the meeting was told that three-quarters of the town’s residents live in homes that are in the three lowest bands, A, B and C.

That means the rise for them will be smaller, starting at around £4.70 for a band A householder.

Colin Houghton said that, while he felt the plan was “quite reasonable” in cash terms, the authority could be criticised for implementing such a sharp increase in percentage terms at a time when other authorities’ powers are capped.

He said: “It seems a bit high, but it’s about how we get the message across.”

Unlike district and county councils or the police and crime commissioner, who can only raise their portion of the council tax by just under two per cent without calling a referendum, there is no restriction on town or parish authorities.

But town clerk Richard Bishop warned there was no guarantee the council would remain outside capping restrictions in future years.

He said: “Consultation is continuing and the situation is being reviewed year on year.”

Shirley Matthews said she was “disappointed” the council could not stick to a two per cent increase.

But deputy mayor Paul Darby said: “I think it’s quite clear. Everything is explained, where it’s going and what’s needed.”

Overall, the council set a precept of £323,090, up just over £30,000 on the current financial year.

But the council says the rise in individual residents’ tax bills has been reduced by an increase in its council tax base from the recent occupation of new homes in the town.

However, a number of other charges for council services will also go up.

Allotment holders will see their rents increased by 2.5 per cent, while the charges for cemetery burial fees and Recreation Ground bookings will also rise by two per cent.

However, members rejected plans for a similar increase in rent for the former tourist information centre, instead voting to freeze the charge in a move they hope will help to secure a new lease agreement when the current deal runs out at the end of the year.

The budget also includes plans to market the council chamber in the town hall as a conference venue in an attempt to mitigate some of the losses incurred by former tenants either reducing or ending their use of the offices.

And, amid concerns over the amount the council was paying in energy costs, Jan Buckley Stephens suggested they should look at the possibility of installing solar panels on its buildings.

But Rob Bartram argued it was unviable at the moment.