Totnes Town Councillors have agreed to freeze the amount of Council Tax precept it receives in the next financial year, due to the rising cost of living and the challenges brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic.
The annual precept request to South Hams Council will remain the same, at £545,986 for the 2022/23 financial year.
This means, with the increased number of homes in the town, each household’s council tax payments to the town council will be slightly less than the current amount paid.
Currently, Band D properties contribute £189.13 per year to the town council, but in 2022/23 this will be reduced to £186.57, or £3.59 per week.
Setting their 2022/23 budget at their latest town council meeting, members agreed to spend nearly £1million in the next financial year.
The total budget expenditure of £993,074 well exceeds the precept income of £545,986.
To make up the difference, the council is drawing down some £341,000 from its reserves.
Staff salaries and pensions amount to just under £400,000; while £324,700 has been earmarked for community development projects including £125,000 for proposed traffic calming ramp proposals, along with a £33,950 community outreach and arts budget which will see £15,000 set aside for a new community art grants scheme, and £10,500 for the town’s Christmas festival and workshop.
The council has also budgeted for a £100,000 spend on community public assets, which will be used to pay for legal, conveyancing and loan repayment costs if the authority succeeds in its bid to buy King Edward VI Community College’s Lower School site.
If the council is unable to buy the site, councillors will consider how that money should be spent or whether it goes unspent and therefore back into the year end reserves.
Other costs included in the new budget include some £30,000 on developing the Visit Totnes brand and tourism provision in the town; £50,000 for community grants to support groups which support vulnerable residents, and provide youth engagement and community transport.
Councillors also plan to spent more than £30,000 on maintaining and improving the cemetery and £10,000 on climate change and green travel initiatives.
Town clerk, Catherine Marlton, said the council has a very healthy reserve due to the delay in capital projects caused by Covid pandemic.
She explained: “With our current year end budget projection we should start the 2022/23 financial year with approx £553,000 in reserve, so when the £341,000 comes out we will be down to a more realistic £212,000.
“It is not the town council’s policy (or best practice in local government) to keep hold of large sums of money in reserve but rather to operate with enough to cover three to 12 months of operational costs.
“Spending from our reserve rather than increasing the precept brings us back in line with best practice on this.”
Catherine added: “On top of this, councillors felt strongly that with the financial pressures on local people from the pandemic, and the significant projected increases in cost of living generally going forward, it was very important to limit any increase with careful budgeting and the use of reserves or savings rather than ask local people to pay more.”