The Shepton Mallet Town Council held the first meeting of 2013 last evening. The Council elected a new Chairman, with Terry Marsh being elected, the new vice Chairman is Bente Height, she was elected unopposed.
The Council also set the budget for 2013/14, the Council will not increase the Council Tax rate for the Parish of Shepton Mallet.
Essentially the Shepton Mallet Town Councils budget is unsustainable, the only way it is sustainable is for deliberate underspending, this causes money to be unused and goes into reserves, this is then used the following year, this little game has been going on for years.
Last evening, the choice was between putting up the Council Tax up by 67p a year or freezing the level.
In terms of aspiration there was no difference between those who supported a 67p increase and those who wanted not to put up the tax.
The two main aspirations are to fund the Neighbourhood plan and the Skate Park contribution, the Collett park maintenance and other grounds are covered and the cost of running the Council with a few grants to the likes of the CAB, CCTV etc.
In June 2011, I wrote a corporate plan, this outlined the need for a communication and public engagement strategy, this was accepted. The thinking was that the Council needed a mechanism to develop it's budget making process, for public and partners to develop policy to make Shepton better. Sadly the Council has never developed the idea.
Last evening a pretty drab and uninspiring budget was presented, the choice was whether you raised tax by 67p a year and raise £2000 or use the reserves.
I supported a nil increase in tax.
Last year the Council increased the budget for grounds by £4000, this equated to a 3% increase, I supported this as this was an increase in service, no such increase in service was proposed this year, so I could not offer my support for an increase.
I do think the Town Council budget is something of the twilight zone, I am sure the Conservative Group was surprised by my support for a nil increase, but until the Council develop a budget making process that engages with the community and responds to their agenda, raising tax for the sake of it in the cold isolation of the Council chamber will not get my support.
This year I engaged with the Community over the hospital and the civic hall. The community were encouraged by this, the Council has to learn to become inclusive, in their budget making.
I simply refuse to increase tax for it to end up in reserves.
Those councillors who want to increase tax, needed to articulated the need for the increase, they needed to articulated what new service would be delivered. Times are very hard, the justification of any increase in tax has to be made, I took the view the ruling mind set of the Council is to underspend its budgets to subsidies the coming year council tax, and those who wanted an increase the council tax the increase was so small it would make no difference to service.
At a time when the Conservative and Lib Dem government, supported by our MP Tessa Munt are effectively cutting in real terms in work benefits, that 67p may be needed more by the tax payer than our rather moribund council.