Otley ratepayers will pay 17 per cent less precept this year – but the town council has still come under fire for “overspending”.
The decision to reduce the ‘parish tax’ for the coming year to bring in £265,000 was welcomed at this week’s policy and resources committee meeting.
The cut, which follows a 25 per cent increase last year, means Band D householders will pay just under £60 for the next 12 months.
Councillor Carl Morris (Lab, Manor), proposing the change along with a £340,100 budget for 2014-15, said: “The precept has gone up and down a bit like a yo-yo for various reasons, but we said last year that we’d return the grant (the Labour group made an additional increase to the precept due to last-minute doubts about a £28,000 grant from Leeds City Council, which it then received) and we have done.”
He described it as a “consolidation budget” following the funding of some big projects in 2013-14, including the Orchard Gate toilets re-build and move into the Otley Core Resource Centre – schemes, he insisted, that had been about becoming a “service based council at the heart of the community”.
The Lib Dem group, however, which backed the precept cut but not the budget, questioned the accuracy of the proposed figures and especially the projected reserves of £74,252 and £20,000 toilets income.
Lib Dem leader Councillor Jim Spencer (Lib Dem, West Chevin) argued that the ‘real’ final figure for the reserves should be just £34,000 – £40,000 less.
And Councillor Philip Bye (Lib Dem, Prince Henry) described the estimated toilet money as “pure fiction. We think it will be about £9,000.”
Councillor Sandy Lay (Lib Dem, Danefield) added: “The budget’s actually going up by 4.5 per cent and the idea we’re squirrelling away large reserves is just not true. This council is spending more, though you may be asking less this year for the precept.”
Coun Morris, however, said many of those concerns were simply due to “a disagreement over the way a spreadsheet is laid out” and that a number of ‘underspends’ underpinned the £74, 252 reserves figure.
He also rejected claims that Labour had not been exercising tight enough financial control during its time in charge.
He said: “Over the last four years our precept average has been £61.09 – only 41p more than what the previous administration was raising in its last few years.”
Council leader Councillor John Eveleigh (Lab, Ashfield) added: “We’re getting services now being delivered from this building that we’ve never had before and everything this council is doing is community focused.”
Coun Morris pointed out after the meeting that the proposed budget had to be signed off beforehand by the council’s executive officer and accountant.