Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Setting the Budget and the Council Tax rate for Frodsham

January and February are always intense months in local government - it is when budgets are finalised and Council Tax rates are set.

For those of us in Frodsham our Council Tax demand is made up of four elements.  By far the largest share of the Council Tax (around 85%)  is paid to CWaC - however our total Council Tax bill also includes contributions to the police authority (about 10%) and fire authority (about 5%) - and finally a small element to the Town Council.

Last year the element of the Council Tax paid to Frodsham Town Council was £30.22 per Band D household - this was out of a total bill of £1,495.77.  For those whose properties lies in the other Council Tax bands the figures paid will be different - but in the same proportions.

Now this year CWaC is considering whether to vary the Council Tax it charges across the Borough to reflect the variation in expenses met in some cases by the local town or parish council and those met by the Borough Council.  The three elements it is looking at are - PCSOs, Christmas Lights and play areas.  In Frodsham - it is the Town Council that largely pays for these items.  In contrast Northwich Town has 2 PCSOs funded by CWaC - but none by the Town Council.  Arguably this is unfair to Frodsham residents as we are partially subsidising Northwich's PCSOs and having to provide our own.  

If CWaC adopts this special expenses regime we in Frodsham will see about an £8.33 reduction in our Council Tax payable to CWaC.  This will be the largest reduction in the Borough - shared with 2 other parishes.  I say 'if' - because we do not know at this stage whether this policy will be adopted.

So what is FTC's financial position?

The outgoing FTC Council planned spending in the 2011-12 year of around £156,000.  These expenditures would be met through around £115,000 in Council Tax, some modest income of around £7,000 with the rest coming from reserves.  Our present financial information shows that we will spend £123,787.11 (in the year to 31 March 2012), had income of £16,557.26 - meaning our net payments will be around £107,229.85 as against £115,000 in Council Tax receipts.  In other words showing a small surplus as against our expenditure - exactly where any prudent local authority would like to be.  Whilst this looks pleasing - we have to bear in mind that some of this additional income comes from burial fees and the selling of grave plots.  This is not a demand you want to encourage!

So what of next year?  No-one wants to see taxes increase - however how many people would notice an £8.33 reduction in Council Tax over all?  Could that money be better spent in Frodsham for the benefit of the community?   In other words if there is a proper programme, should FTC take the opportunity to shift resources from CWaC to FTC without affecting the overall Council Tax bills in Frodsham?

FTC's Council Tax rate is presently very low compared with other parish and town councils.  Helsby's Band D rate is of the order of £42.  In Northwich the figure is over £70.  One of the reasons FTC's rate is so low is the fact that the last Council chose to finance some of its programme (that we didn't fully adopt) out of reserves.   Clearly that is unsustainable in the longer term.  Also in the past FTC hasn't been particularly ambitious.  Many of us take the view that our reserves should be used for capital projects and as a prudent buffer against unforeseen events and shocks - not as a resource to pay ongoing expenditures as the norm.

Then there is the question of having ambition - can we do more to promote Frodsham and help the community?  Can we share resources more with our neighbours and colleagues in Helsby, Kingsley and Sutton Weaver?  CWaC have already agreed that we can share 'front of house' facilities with them in Frodsham.  There are exciting possibilities being worked on that can be delivered cost effectively if we all work together efficiently.

So one of the questions we are grappling with at FTC is - do we take this opportunity to raise a little more money from the community - but making sure that there is no net increase in Council Tax for Frodsham residents or not?  Clearly we should not raise 1p more than is needed - and it should only be raised for proper purposes - not just because we can.

Would this help us towards a programme of offering two weeks unpaid work experience to our youngsters who want or need it...  this is certainly one of my hopes and ambitions?

So, anyway everything is in draft.  Plans are being formulated.  If you have any views on the subject or wish to help in any way - please let me know.  We'll have a better idea on 23 January what we are likely to do - and will have to set our precept by 9 February.