Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Frodsham Town Council - building the budget

It is in the first two months of the calendar year that local authorities determine their budgets for the next financial year so that council tax bills can be sent out by the end of March.  Traditionally Frodsham Town Council (FTC) holds two meetings in January - the first one looking solely at budgets - and the second one (the normal meeting) where the budget is finalised and the council tax rate set.

Last night was the first budget meeting where we scrutinised the various budget proposals.  The typical revenue budget for FTC is around £150,000 per year with around £138,000 of income coming from the FTC council tax payer.  Other income comes from grants and investments.

I am sure most people will be interested in knowing what the intention is with regard to FTC's portion of the council tax.  I proposed, and the council unanimously accepted, that when setting our budgets that last years council tax rate of £38.47 per Band D property must not be exceeded.  Given the effect of inflation this will mean a real terms decrease for everyone.  The final decision will be made at the end of the month.

Don't forget if you are over 70 you are entitled to a £5 voucher from FTC.  For a household with one person over 70 the effective FTC council tax is £33.47 per year or £28.47 if there are two people over 70. 

Much of the things that FTC does continue from year to year.  This includes things such as providing and maintaining the Tarvin Road Cemetery, maintaining the Parish Clock at the traffic lights at the Bear's Paw etc, the over 70s vouchers, salt for winter gritting etc.  We have made some changes this year which include budgeting for FTC:

  • to make a contribution towards a shared post for someone to manage Castle Park alongside the Art's Centre Trust (CPACT) and Castle Park Trust (CPT) - the budget figure is £10,000 - whether this is spent will depend on a business case being made and FTC signing up to a Memorandum of Understanding shortly to be agreed between CPT and CPACT.  I would like to see FTC getting a seat at the Castle Park table - but this will almost certainly require some capital contribution to Castle Park Trust;
  • to make a larger contribution towards the costs of the Christmas Festival;
  • to make a contribution alongside our neighbours in Helsby Parish Council and hopefully those in Ince and Elton, to building up a fund to assist in monitoring the flood defences on the marshes.  The Environment Agency will cease to maintain the existing pumps and infrastructure in April 2015. Agreements between the various businesses and land owners on the marshes with CWaC means that the local land owners and the Highways Agency will take the lead in maintaining the pumps and infrastructure going forward.  We think that it is important for the local community to have a real stake in the marshes - and have the ability, as needs be, to commission small works or reports from independent drainage experts.  All of us in Frodsham have a real interest in ensuring that the motorway and the A56 stay open - and that our lower lying residents and businesses are protected from the risk of flooding as best we can.  The suggested cost is £1 per Band D property per year from 2015.  I suggested, and the council accepted, that we should raise 50p per Band D property this year so as to start to build the fund.  We have 3583 council tax paying properties in Frodsham - so this amounts to £1,791.50 in the year to come.  In round terms there are about 6,000 council tax paying properties surrounding the marshes in Frodsham, Helsby, Elton and Ince.  If we built up a combined fund between us of c£6,000 pa we would, I'm sure, be able to commission small scale works and/or an engineers report every 4-5 years or so.  I see such a modest contribution as giving FTC and the surrounding parishes a seat at the table when it comes to discussing and managing the marshes going forward;
  • to be able to web-cast at least some, if not all of its council meetings.  FTC does not want to pay the entire costs suggested by CWaC for the service - and therefore we are looking for partners and innovative ways of undertaking the recording etc - I am hoping that we will be able to involve students from Helsby High School too.  To date there has been a staggering 707 viewings of FTC's trial webcast council meeting from December 2013.
FTC is also looking to part fund highway improvements with CWaC.  Top of my list, and I'm sure top of other's lists too are some sort of crossing point near the Netherton and improved crossing arrangements on Ship Street near Weaver Vale Primary School as well as improvements to play areas.

FTC is looking to do more - but crucially - without increasing the council tax.

When comparing FTC's performance do please bear in mind - based on 2013 figures for Band D properties that:
  • The effect of CWaC's special expenses regime (this seeks to make sure that local council tax payers pay for things specific to their location) is that Frodsham residents pay the least council tax to CWaC (along with 2 other parishes) - our special expenses figure is £0. 
  • Frodsham council tax payers pay less than any other parished Town in the Borough - Northwich residents pay in excess of £70 per year;
  • Frodsham council tax payers pay less than those in Helsby - and I gather Helsby are set to increase their council tax again this year;
  • The average parish council tax rate for a Band D property in England is £55 per year.
  • The difference between what a non-parished area and a parished area of CWaC pays is decreasing. Last year a Frodsham resident paid only £20 more than a Chester (un-parished) resident. Chester residents don't have: local winter gritting scheme, over 70s vouchers benefiting both our senior citizens and our local economy ... and other things besides...