THATCHAM Town Council’s furious Liberal Democrats have asked what the town’s residents are getting in return for “the biggest council tax rise in more than 20 years”.
The Conservative-run town council voted in favour of increasing its precept by 9.5 per cent to help pay for the cost of taking on additional services from the district council.
The town council has agreed to speak to West Berkshire Council about the possibility of taking on the ownership of the Henwick Worthy sports ground.
It will also pay more than £24,000 out of next year’s budget to help the district council pay for the library service.
During an hour-long debate at a meeting on Monday, however, Lee Dillon (Thatcham North) said it was a budget based on “large assumptions” – because it has not yet been confirmed whether the town council would need all of the extra money it is asking residents for.
Mr Dillon argued that negotiations with West Berkshire Council about the transfer of Henwick Worthy to the town council were unlikely to conclude until later in the year.
During the meeting he added: “I cannot say to residents, under a regressive taxation system, that they should be paying 10 per cent more.
“Wages are not going up by 10 per cent, inflation is not rising by 10 per cent, so why should bills be going up by 10 per cent?”
He urged fellow councillors not to vote in favour of the budget “out of fear” that the council could lose assets.
But leader Jason Collis replied: “My support for this budget is not out of fear, it is out of support for this town.
“It is my belief that if we control these assets we will be able to manage them better.”
And fellow Conservative Richard Crumly added: “This council is making provision for the future to acquire assets.
“We need to step up to the plate with money in hand to secure these facilities.”
However, Liberal Democrat Jeff Brooks hit back, saying: “If I were a member of the public, I would be struggling to know what extra I am getting for my money.
“Paying an extra 9.5 per cent, but not getting any extra services.
“Do we feel as a council we are going to be able to explain to people how that is good value for money?
“Because I don’t.
“Perhaps someone will explain it to me, perhaps they won’t.”
Liberal Democrat Mike Cole said: “Why are we asking residents to pay for something that may or may not happen?”
The Liberal Democrats tabled a last-minute amendment to the budget, which it said would halve the precept rise.
The amendment was shot down by the Conservatives – who all voted against it.
Mr Dillon concluded: “I won’t be supporting a budget that calls for the highest council tax rise we have had for over 20 years.”
Subsequently, all Lib Dems in attendance voted against.
The Conservatives all voted for.