Smaller council tax rise for town

PONTELAND residents will receive a smaller increase to their council tax than first thought.

The town council unanimously agreed to raise the precept by 0.37 per cent to £349,631 for the 2013/14 financial year at a recent full council meeting.

An earlier recommendation was to put it up by 1.62 per cent to £353,980, but then the authority heard from the county council that it will be given a grant to compensate for a reduced tax base as a result of the localisation of council tax benefit.

Under the Government’s changes, claimants that currently receive benefit credit to their account as a cash amount will instead get a discount on their council tax. This will reduce the amount of money collected by local authorities and so they will need to decide how to make up the shortfall.

However, for next year, the county council has received £600,000 from the Government to help cover the lost income and Ponteland Town Council will be given £4,349 of this funding. This allocation was deducted from the precept request amount.

Explaining why the council tax bill will slightly increase, Mayor Peter Cowey said: “We try to freeze the precept or even reduce it a little, but this year it is going up because we’re taking on responsibility for the cemetery at Prestwick.

“The costs of running it are greater than the income we will receive and we’ve allocated some spare funding for the facility as you can’t get things wrong when it comes to the cemetery.

“But we’re absorbing some of this expense ourselves and the fact that we’re going to receive a grant from the county council after all means that the increase is extremely small.”

Councillors were also in favour of some projects being carried out over a three-year period instead of trying to do them all within one year as there are still schemes which had been identified two years ago, such as reviewing the Conservation Area, that have yet to be completed.

But they agreed that some smaller items on the projects wishlist can be done within 2013/14. These include works on historic mileage signs and Fairtrade town signage (as long as it is being added to existing signs), a new seat at Prestwick and a three-tier planter at Broadway, Darras Hall.

A few wishlist items require more consideration and a further meeting will be arranged to discuss them in detail.