CHRISTCHURCH Town Council says it intends to spend a 50% rise in its minority share of the council tax on “driving forward” its new role and continuing to deliver local services.
Members said the big hike in the precept was because it had been set “woefully low” when it was launched last year after the abolition of the borough council and the creation of the BCP unitary authority.
Most of the council tax is made up of BCP Council’s demand, which for a Christchurch Band D home in 2020/21 will be £1,541.57 – a 3.55% drop of £56.73.
However, part of that will now be swallowed up by the town council’s hike in its share from £27.89 during 2019/20 to £42.22 from April, plus increases by the county’s police and fire services.
In total it means that a Band D household in Christchurch town will pay a combined £1,900.73 – compared to £1,931.64 in 2019/20.
In Burton the combined charge for 2020/21 will be £1,871.62; Hurn £1,887.81, and Highcliffe and Walkford £1,884.37.
The increase in Christchurch Town Council’s share was laid out in a meeting report to members. They were told it was to help “develop the council so that it can operate independently of the principal authority”.
Reporting that the previous precept was “extremely low” it was stated that “for the size of the council tax base it was evidently a crippling factor in allowing the council to develop and progress”.
The new budget has been set at £514,416. Part of it should, according to the report, be spent on appointing a new officer at a salary of between £15-20,000 to support the current staff with coping with increasing administrative demands.
At present there are only two full-time staff: the town clerk and the mayor’s secretary.
The rest of the budget is to be spent overheads, exceptional items and a grants fund, plus maintaining recreation and play parks, allotments, open spaces, Druitt Hall, the Old Town Hall and the Quomps.
An assets damage contingency fund of £8,000 has also been set up which will be used to deal with matters such as the vandalism at Mudeford cricket pavilion.
Overheads include insurance, PR, laptops, travel, photocopying and advertising, among other things. A grant fund of £10,000 has been set aside to deal with events such as road closures for Remembrance Day.
Under the exceptional category, the council will pay for such things as entering Britain in Bloom, for which this year £25,000 has been set aside.
Justifying the increase, Christchurch mayor Cllr Lesley Dedman said the original budget had been “woefully underfunded”.
Cllr Mike Cox said in comparison to the BCP Council, the town council would still be “incredibly underfunded” but that it would now have “the resources to improve Christchurch”.
However, news of the precept increase infuriated some Christchurch residents who accused the town council of doubling its income despite having achieved “pretty much nothing”, with BCP Council “doing all of the actual work”.
Another resident wrote: “I have to admit I am still trying to find out what the roles and responsibilities for these people are, so they, like everyone else drawing funds, are held accountable for delivering on same.”
Of the three other parish councils in Christchurch, Burton has proposed a 1% increase in its precept, Hurn a 3% rise, and Highcliffe and Walkford a cut of more than 6%.
Residents’ council tax bills for a Band D home in 2020/21 will include £1,541.57 from BCP Council, £240.58 from the Dorset police and crime commissioner, and £76.36 from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Authority.
As the BCP Council budget was approved earlier in February, Cllr David Brown, the cabinet member for finance, declared: “Fairness is at the heart of this budget.”
He went on: “We are now on a clear path to set a council tax that makes a single charging structure possible right across the conurbation from April 2021 and fulfil our promise that all households will be billed the same within two years of the formation of BCP Council.
“In progressing this, we have been able to keep council tax rises within the government’s 3.99% increase threshold, including a 2% adult social care precept.”