No increase in tax

THE local council tax precept for Ponteland residents will stay the same after town councillors rejected an increase.

A majority of members decided to keep the precept for the 2011/12 financial year at £336,000, which works out at about £62 per Band D household.

A zero per cent increase was provisionally agreed in December, although there was room for change if the authority was told to take on extra services from Northumberland County Council or the costs for services provided by the county council went up.

The unitary authority wrote to town and parish councils giving them a list of local services that it was considering no longer providing in 2011/12, but last month it decided to work with them over the next six months to understand the precise situation for each council and come to an agreement for the following year.

Despite this, Mayor Robin Ramsay proposed a 2.9 per cent increase at a meeting of Ponteland Town Council last week.

“We will need professional legal and management advice for the discussions with the county council, particularly with the transfer to us of the (Prestwick) cemetery which will have a major impact on this council,” he said.

“There is a possibility we may be charged for the cleaning of Ponteland’s public toilets and we have been informed that our reserves, which are currently at £10,000, are at a dangerously low level so this small increase would help to bolster them further.”

But Coun Ramsay added: “Unfortunately, we have to decide on the precept tonight. If negotiations with the county council had taken place in advance, we would have had much more time to work out where we are going with local services.”

But Coun Liz Thompson said: “Everyone is having to make cutbacks at the moment so I’m uncomfortable with raising the precept.

“There are some luxuries in our budget which we can do without for one year.”

Coun David Butler specifically referred to the proposed allocation of £30,500 for special projects as something that could be trimmed.

And Coun Eileen Armstrong said: “People are finding it very tough and so I think it would be unfair to give them an increase for the year to come.”

The council tax precept for the county council for 2011/12 is set to be decided at a full council meeting on Wednesday.