Council tax rise – ‘it’s not a big deal’

By Steve Peacock in Politics

Totnes town councillors have voted to shove their share of council tax bills up by ten per cent – which works out at just 22p a week.

But the increase still left the town council’s budget for the coming financial year in the red to the tune of over £26,000.

And councillors were faced with deciding on Monday this week between covering the gap with cash from a town community trust – or axing aspirational projects ranging from employing a new tourist information officer to launching a Totnes arts plan for the town.

The town councillors decided to approve a budget based on a ten per cent council tax rise – pushing the town’s share of an average tax bill up from £114.53 a year to £125.95.

However the increase did not balance the books leaving the council with a £26,102 shortfall if it goes ahead with the £78,000 worth of projects still to be approved.

The possible hit list of schemes includes £2,000 for the Devon Air Ambulance to provide lighting for a night time landing point in the town and £12,000 to help Totnes Museum re-invent itself as a local attraction and radically boost its income.

There is a request for £13,800 to work up an arts plan for the town while the Totnes Neighbourhood Plan team wants an extra £15,000 to complete its work.

On top of that Totnes town councillor Jacqui Hodgson is asking for £30,000 so that the town can employ a new tourist information office.

This will provide a new service that will replace the one axed by the town council only last year.

On Monday this week the councillors were faced with turning down some – or even all – of these projects to find the extra cash.

Alternatively they could have decided to use money from the Paige Adams Trust – a council trust fund worth tens of thousands of pounds set up more than 70 years ago through the will of a wealthy local philanthrop-ist – to help with the ‘relief of the rates’. In the past money from the trust has been used to shore up tax bills and more recently money from the trust has been handed out in grants to local groups.

The latest Totnes tax rise comes on top of the 30 per cent tax increase town councillors imposed last year which saw the town’s share of the overall tax bill rise from £87.89 to £114.53 a year for an average Band D council tax payer.

Thanks to that increase the current total average bill for Totnes, which includes tax bills from South Hams Council, Devon County Council, the police and the fire brigade, stands at £1,725 - the largest in the South Hams.

Last week’s decision will increase the town share of the bill by £11.42 – some 22p a week per household.

Town councillor Ben Piper said he believed it was a price townspeople would be willing to pay ‘to keep the town functioning properly’ as he added: ‘I don’t think it is a big deal.’

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