THATCHAM residents will see their council tax bills rise again after the Conservative-run town council voted in favour of raising its precept by 9.5 per cent.
The council took the decision in order to help pay for the cost of taking on additional services, including the management of the Henwick Worthy sports ground.
The ground is currently owned by West Berkshire Council and leased to the town council. The town council pays £46,850 a year towards the ground’s management, but the district council retains all of the income.
At Monday’s Thatcham Town Council meeting, the Conservatives revealed they had already held early discussions with West Berkshire Council about the possibility of taking the sports ground off its hands.
The takeover would result in the town council having to shell out £90,000 a year, alongside a £24,480 contribution to West Berkshire Council towards the cost of keeping the town’s library open.
The town council’s budget for 2017/18 was set at £717,085 – up from £654,870 last year, meaning bills for the average Band D property will increase from £74 to £79.92. This follows a two per cent precept increase in 2016/17.
At the same time the amount of money the town receives from West Berkshire Council through a precept support grant has been gradually reduced to zero.
The Henwick news came as a shock to Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Cole (Thatcham North), who had asked why the contribution had increased.
Town council leader Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) said that no detailed discussions had been held and that the potential takeover was merely an expression of interest from both councils.
“West Berkshire Council are finding it difficult to find money and they are open to opportunities to relieve them of assets,” he said.
The takeover would need to be completed by the start of the financial year on April 1, something that Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham West) said was unlikely to occur.
Mr Cole said: “We are putting the precept up by 10 per cent on the back of something where we may or may not be incurring potential costs of seven per cent of the precept.
“Is there any other option? It seems a bit harsh for the residents to pay an increase more than they have to on something that may or may not happen.”
Mr Cole was told that raising the precept would be the only option, however, because the town council could not set a conditional budget.
Mr Cole said that the proposal [to take on the management of Henwick] should have been discussed with all councillors beforehand “rather than being tagged on to the budget” days before the meeting.
“I’m really not comfortable with it,” he added.
Explaining the Conservatives’ motives for taking over the Henwick fields, Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) said: “We will have control of it and get the income. [Currently we are] paying out to West Berkshire and nothing else.
“If it comes over to us we will be running it and also will get the income and hope to run it at a profit... and it will belong to Thatcham. If we don’t take it over West Berkshire Council might give it to a third party and it may then slip away.
“We are taking a broad and long view, this could be a very good item for the people of Thatcham to acquire.”
The town’s budget will go before full council to be decided at a meeting at the council offices at 6.30pm tonight (Monday, January 30)