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Newbury Town Council proposes precept freeze



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Leader of Newbury Town Council, Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Pyle Hill), said that the town council precept for the average band D property in the parish would remain at £75.66, or £1.45 a week, due to new council tax payers making up the deficit of rising costs.
The town council is proposing a total precept application to West Berkshire Council of £929,815, for the financial year 2015/16, compared to the present £894,351.
Meanwhile, an additional £36,768 will be provided through a council tax mitigation grant by West Berkshire Council from central Government.
At an ill-tempered meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee on Monday night, Conservative councillors criticised the Lib Dem administration for circulating the budget proposals at the “eleventh hour”, leaving little time to prepare a counter-budget, and for not making it available to the press and public.
Conservative leader Tony Stretton (Clay Hill) said he had asked Mr Swift-Hook to display amendments to the budget via a projector at the meeting.
“The leader refused outright,” said Mr Stretton. “I think it’s really unfair that he did that. There are many other councils that do this.”
Mr Swift-Hook said it was to avoid lengthy line-by-line discussions on each aspect of the budget.
The proposed budget includes £375,551 for officer salaries, £21,000 for professional fees and £35,000 for a Victoria Park contingency fund to cover urgent repairs caused by subsidence and insurance and legal costs as its battle with Parkway contractor Costain into the cause of damage to the town continues.
It also increases funding to Newbury wardens from £53,000 to £59,500 for extra patrols in Victoria Park and St George’s Avenue and lays out £11,500 for repairs and maintenance to public play equipment and £11,000 for the refurbishment of the town hall.
Mr Swift-Hook said: “This budget proposes a zero per cent increase in the precept which in these particularly strident times is welcome news to the parishioners of Newbury.
“At the same time, because we have more residents compared to last year, there’s an increase in the actual amount of money available to the town council to spend of about 3.9 per cent.
“I think the officers have to be commended for having put together a budget that brings a zero-per-cent increase but still means we can deliver services to Newbury at good value.”
Conservatives proposed an alternative budget, which included taking £3,000 from reserves, to be added to the £3,000 from the now-obsolete Town Hall drinking fountain, to fund the Wharf toilets, reducing photocopying costs from £6,500 to £6,000 and reducing the number of newsletters in the year from four to three to reduce costs from £5,000 to £3,000.
The group said it felt that anticipated income of £130,840, generated via services such as market income, hiring of the council chamber and cemetery charges, was optimistic and was more likely to be in the region of £117,500.
Meanwhile, it considered that, with energy costs set to fall, the additional 10 per cent proposed in the Liberal Democrat budget was unnecessary.
All Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the draft budget, and all Conservatives against.
The proposed budget will be confirmed at a meeting of full council at 7.30pm on Monday in Newbury Town Hall.



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