Town council prepares to increase its share of tax bills by 70pc

Dereham Town Council is preparing to increase its part of people's overall council tax bills by 70pc in an effort to avoid possible government limits on future tax hikes.

The council currently charges band D properties �77 a year, and the proposed increase in precept would add about �1 a week to bills.

Tim Birt, chairman of its finance and governance committee, said the budget had to rise to cover risks that could increase the council's costs in future years.

These included the possible loss of a �63,000 government grant to fund council tax support, the maintenance of council-owned buildings and taking over some services, such as children's play areas, that are run at present by Breckland Council.

Mr Birt said the town council had been planning a series of smaller tax rises over a number of years. However, he feared the government could force town councils to hold referenda to approve tax rises above a sum set by ministers, and these would cost the town council �17,000 to run.

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He said this meant 2013-14 could be the last chance for the council to raise funds to cover extra future spending.

Mr Birt added: 'The bottom line is the precept for Dereham is going to go up by about �1 a week. That makes sure we have covered all the risks we are looking at over the longer period.

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'If it turns out we have been pessimistic we can bring it down again.

'What we are doing is taking a lot of responsibilities from Breckland but, instead of paying your money to Breckland, you are paying this money over to Dereham. It's money that will be collected in Dereham and spent in Dereham: we won't be buying a bus interchange in Thetford.

'Basically, what we are trying to do is front-load this. I'm not saying [the tax rise] is going to be zero [in the future], but the intention is that it's around about zero because we have put it up-front; but we can't guarantee that because there are still uncertainties.'

He said town councillors had looked at cutting services to manage future budget risks but had ruled that out.

'It would have absolutely decimated everything. There would be no play areas at all; there would be no community car scheme; there would be no toilets. It would be complete decimation to do this by cuts,' he added.

'Even if you cut it to the absolute legal minimum we need to do, we might still have to put council tax up.'

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