No council tax precept increase for authority

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

An element of council tax for Morpeth residents has been frozen for the 2016/17 financial year.

Morpeth Town Council agreed by a majority vote to keep the precept the same and after reviewing its fees and charges for the hiring of community centres, it has decided to make no change.

The effect of maintaining the precept requirement at £535,500 is that the amount for the average Band D properties of £111.16 is a decrease of 64p on that for the current year.

The reasons given by those in favour of the measure include low inflation and the level of the council’s balances and one of the members said he understands Northumberland County Council’s administration will propose a bigger than usual increase for its share of the precept.

One of the options on the table was an increase of just over two per cent.

But at a meeting of the full council, Coun David Parker, chairman of the finance and general purposes committee, said: “Over the past five years, the council’s balances have increased from £328,082 to £602,160.

“This has not been due to any deliberate decision by the council. It is because the budgeting process requires the framing of a budget three months before the end of the financial year, so it is based on estimates of income and expenditure.

“It has also been due to the council increasing the precept each year, roughly in line with the rate of inflation at the time and in accordance with its medium term financial strategy.

“This year, inflation is running at less than one per cent, which has led the finance and general purposes committee to take a hard look at the council’s balances and decide what level of balances it needs to retain.

“The result of these discussions has led it to recommend to council that there be no increase in the precept next year.

“It has also been mindful of the circumstances of many residents who continue to find life difficult – either because they are unable to find work and live on benefits or because, although having employment, they have received below inflation increases in salary or wages in the past seven or eight years.”

Coun Bob Robertson said: “As I’ve previously stated, I don’t think a two per cent rise will cause major harm to residents and any surplus funds can be spent on important community projects.

“Inflation should be largely irrelevant when considering the precept as it can change. For example, if the EU referendum takes place in 2016 and the result is that the UK public decides to leave it, inflation will increase quickly.”

Andrew Tebbutt, a town and county councillor, said: “It is my understanding that the county council is looking for an increase in the region of four per cent to its precept figure and we need to take this into account.”

Coun Nic Best said: “We’re not talking about a lot of money in budget terms for the proposal to increase the precept, but it was recommended by the new clerk (Tracey Bell) after examining the council’s finances.

“I want to make it clear that there should be no political capital to be made out of this measure.”

Nine members voted to accept the no increase recommendation, two voted against it and there were two abstentions.