Councils make tough council tax choices

Diss, Norfolk. Opening of the new Poundstretcher in Diss at the old Godfrey's site opened by Keith Kiddie of Diss Town Council with Nicky Norman and Mark Sharpin
Diss, Norfolk. Opening of the new Poundstretcher in Diss at the old Godfrey's site opened by Keith Kiddie of Diss Town Council with Nicky Norman and Mark Sharpin

Two of south Norfolk’s town councils voted for how much to put up its part of the council tax bill on Wednesday night

Harleston Town Council decided not to increase the precept - its portion of the council tax bill- while Diss Town Council agreed a 5.7 percent increase.

Diss, Norfolk. Diss Mere

Diss, Norfolk. Diss Mere

This means a £7.97 rise for a ‘Band D’ taxpayer, from £139.86 a year to £147.83.

However, Wednesday’s decision in Diss could be void, should the council be subject to a referendum principle from government.

Under provisions of the Localism Act introduced in 2011, local councils may find that the amount of money they plan to raise is deemed excessive.

Any proposed increase which hits a referendum trigger point, will result in the rise being put to public vote. A substitute precept would have to be agreed, if the Diss public vote against the proposed rise.

A decision was expected from government in December, but council clerk Deborah Sarson said they were yet to be notified.

“The government is being less than helpful by not telling us sooner whether or not we fall within the referendum principle.

“We have set the precept, and will send off our precept demand by the deadline on Monday, and we will sit and wait and see what comes out.

“It’s 50/50 that we won’t be back here deciding another precept, slashing budgets, and facing really severe economic difficulties in the future.”

February 12 has been earmarked for another meeting, to decide the next plan of action.

Deputy town mayor Keith Kiddie described the situation as “very difficult.”

“Nobody is entirely 100 per cent sure of where we stand in regard to what is coming down from central government, and the knock on effect that will have,” he said.

The council is facing a tough year financially. Repairs to Madgett’s Walk and the drains from the Mere could cost in the region of £100,000. Around £200,000 has been pledged by the council for the Diss Triangle Heritage Project, while walls at St Mary’s Church need rebuilding and the roads at the cemetery are in need of repair.

This is compounded by close to a £13,000 reduction in the South Norfolk Council grant, and almost a £40,000 increase in the Capital Expenditure Program.

“We are playing the rules of the game that we currently understand.” But Mr Kiddie said the council was waiting to see if those guidelines will change in the next few weeks.

“Then we may have to reconsider what we have done,” he added.

“Our object is to keep the show on the road with the minimum increase,” he added.

“It has all got to be balanced and it is not easy.”

Harleston Town Council was able to vote for a freeze because it found it was actually getting more grant money via South Norfolk Council than previously expected.

The council is facing a shortfall of £11,000 for 2014/15 in its budget, but has decided to “absorb” the cost, rather than passing it on to its tax payers.

The council tax for South Norfolk taxpayers is made up of a contribution to Norfolk County Council, the biggest share by far, South Norfolk Council, the parish or town council, and a contribution to Norfolk police.