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Final decision on Diss Town Council precept to be made later this month

By Mike Scialom

MDEP-09-09-2017-01 Diss Cornhall Heritage Triangle Project High Street bunting
MDEP-09-09-2017-01 Diss Cornhall Heritage Triangle Project High Street bunting

The final decision on what level to raise the council tax of Diss residents will be made later this month.

Diss Town Council met on Wednesday night to discuss the budget for 2018/19, and to what level to increase the precept – their part of the tax bill.

The reason for needing to increase that is over the previous four years we have lost £45,000 in grants, by this year it is closer to £60,000
Trevor Wenman, Mayor of Diss

The draft budget report to councillors proposed an increase for a Band ‘D’ taxpayer from £163.92 a year to £189.03.

That equates to a 15.3 per cent rise – or £25.11 per year, or £2.09 a month.

They agreed to accept the 15.3 per cent rise for further consideration ahead of the next meeting – and will look for further savings where possible to bring that figure down.

A final decision will be made at a full council meeting on Wednesday, January 17.

Last year, the Diss precept was increased by 9.4 per cent.

And Diss Town Mayor Trevor Wenman said when the figure was agreed, it was with the principle of phasing in increases over two years.

“I would remind members that when we were here about a year ago, when they walked into the youth centre, we agreed an increase of 9.4 per cent, which we got down from a figure not dissimilar to what we have got now, by taking some money from earmarked reserves which is something that really I didn’t want to do.

“That brought it down to just below 10 per cent so we could phase that increase over two years.

“The reason for needing to increase that is over the previous four years we have lost £45,000 in grants, by this year it is closer to £60,000.

“That means that our income now is about £50,000 to £60,000 less than it was five years ago.

“We could not go on pretending we could hide that somewhere, that we could finesse it.”

A report to councillors cites a reduction of 49 per cent in funding from South Norfolk Council, from £19,728 to £10,713 for 2018/19.

The budget also needs to find £22,000 in capital loan repayments.

The report adds there is a predicted wages overspend of about £1,911, over a total wages budget of £297,330 for 2017/18.

But it says there will also be a requirement to increase the wages budget by £32,940 to cover previous under-budgeting, salary increases of a minimum of two per cent plus incremental increases through the salary scale range and pension contribution and national insurance increases.

Mr Wenman added: “Let’s try and get away from percentages – 15 per cent sounds a huge amount. It’s £2.09 a month per household. That’s 50p a week.

“Yes, it is money I agree, and I will have to pay it, but let’s get this into proportion.”

Councillor Keith Kiddie said he wanted to keep council tax as low as possible – with South Norfolk resident’s tax bills potentially further increasing in other areas – including the precepts for the district council, county council, and the police.

And councillor Chris Liggett, who worked on the budget, added: “Having gone through the figures line by line with the finance officer, the clerk and the mayor, we have actually pared this back to provide absolutely the minimum services.

“There is no ambitious plan in here unfortunately. What we are trying to do is mitigate losses that have been made over a number of years that, with the best of intentions, endeavoured not to pass on in previous years and it’s come to bite us now.”

The report to councillors read: “Councillors are again faced with a challenging budget.

“However, this year, previous decisions to defer expenditure or not to increase the budget to offset known reductions in income or to allocate expenditure to earmarked reserves has resulted in the current situation.

“These decisions have been made over many years against the advice of officers and the results are now being felt.”

Income to the town council is down by £8,750 in hire fees, with some hirers reducing their hours and a pair of hirers cancelling their booking altogether. Projected income from Park Radio was budgeted at £4,000 for 2017/18, but only £1,140 will be achieved.

Two traders leaving Diss Town market has also contributed to the income reductions, which total more than £20,000.

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