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Heated debate on council budget

PUBLISHED: 17:06 20 November 2008 | UPDATED: 07:47 01 August 2010

A HEATED Bungay town Council meeting on Monday failed to agree on how much money the council would need to run it sbudget for the coming year.

Despite a claim that the town's current precept of £27,100 fell far below the figures of other similar towns in the area members were divided on a proposal to increase it to £28,150 for next year - it has always worked hard to keep its local council tax demand low.

A HEATED Bungay town Council meeting on Monday failed to agree on how much money the council would need to run it sbudget for the coming year.

Despite a claim that the town's current precept of £27,100 fell far below the figures of other similar towns in the area members were divided on a proposal to increase it to £28,150 for next year - it has always worked hard to keep its local council tax demand low.

In the end the matter was sent back to the finance and general purposes committee to consider again and find a balance between those wanting to keep the figure as low as possible and those wanting to increase it by as much as £4000 to give the council flexibility on improvements it wanted to see in Bungay.

Angela Brook said Bungay currently had the lowest precept among similar towns in south Norfolk and North Suffolk yet it had the second highest population among them. While Bungay's current precept was £27,100 Halesworth's stood at £40,000, Framingham's £96,000, Melton £37,600, Loddon £45,000, Harleston £83,000 and Beccles £102,500.

“Our is the lowest precept by quite a large percentage, and I am concerned that we might get into a situation in the middle of the year when we find we haven't got the money we need to do things,” she said.

“We should explain that to our electorate and add another £1000 to the precept.”

Town Clerk Peter Morrow said the proposed precept included provision for work to do with the council's push to become a quality status council.

“Without the knowledge of other towns' financial position it is hard to make comparisons between them,” he said, and suggested several reasons why they might be high - one being the level of independent finance. Bungay had £8200 in independent income.

Arthur Fisher opposed any increase in the precept at a time of financial hardship in the country - to add an amount for things that might be needed was not a reason for raising the amount.

“We have worked very hard to keep the precept as low as we can and that is something we should keep if possible,” he said.

When Dave O'Neill admonished him with: “Shame on you, Councillor Fisher,” Mr Fisher said he did not have to take that. Mr O'Neill withdrew it on the advice of the deputy mayor, John Warnes.

But he said: “I feel those who have a view of striving to keep the precept down is one of the reasons why Bungay is as it is and not humming in the way it should be. We have a recession and that is more reason for funding things like the Scout and Guides, Bungay in Bloom and so on, which need money because other sources are going to be cut back.

“We have a responsibility to the citizens of Bungay who elected us to improve the town and look to the long term as well as the short term.”

He suggested the precept should go to £31,000.

John Palin said he supported Mr Fisher's view to a certain extent. While the council had to look ahead, “we have to watch our spending and we should judge in advance what things are going to cost.”

But Martin Evans said compared with the amount the police and Waveney took in council tax the suggested rise was chicken feed.

“We should be braver about what we are doing,” he said.

Malcolm Bedingfield suggested the council should work harder on having an objective strategy over the next year - at present it had ideas on what it wanted to do but the cost was an unknown quantity. Tamzin Cloke suggested the answer was not to budget for everything at once but select one or two main projects.

Didy Ward said at the recent visioning day the public suggested things that needed tackling in the town, including litter and the public toilets.

“They are services the town council could take under its wing, but because we don't have the funding to do that we are having to go cap in hand to Waveney,” she said,

“We should raise our precept greatly so we can offer the community services close to people's hearts.”

Janet Blowers-O'Neill said the council committees should be asked what they wanted to spend - they could not do anything without money.

“We should think about what money we need, not what we can keep the precept down to,” she said.

Deirdre Shepherd also disagreed with keeping the precept down “because it shows that we as a council are not interested in the community and don't care enough to fight for the money we need. At present we scratch around trying to find money we haven't got, but you cannot do anything in this world without money,” she said.

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