LABOUR leader Brian Smedley has defended last night’s decision by Bridgwater Town Council to vote through a 39% increase in the precept for the financial year beginning on April 1.
The precept – the portion of the Council Tax bill which will be allocated to the council – was set at £878,814.
A statement by the minority Conservative group said the hike was ‘completely wrong’ and showed that the Labour group was ‘out of touch’.
But Cllr Smedley said: “This amounts to a band D of £87.58 which is an annual increase of £24.56 but that just means a monthly increase of £2.04 which comes down to just £1.36 on a band A – the most common tax band in Bridgwater.
“This modest increase of between £1 and £2 a month is necessary for several reasons.
“Firstly, Bridgwater has the lowest precept across Somerset. Yeovil has twice our precept even though it’s a town of the same size and even smaller towns like Frome and Glastonbury are higher still.
“The reason for this modest rise is simple – that we are an aspiring council and need to raise more money – we would do that anyway but we’ve also been hit by Covid.
“Since the removal of the Government support grant all councils have had to seek income generation – as Sedgemoor have – but of course we don’t have £50m to invest in properties to earn rental from, we have to make what we have work.
“And as responsible community landlords we’ve given our tenants rent holidays and we’ve also taken a hit because we can’t at the moment realise the full potential of the income from the town hall during this time.
“However, we need to maintain our community support and so we will keep that money flowing to the key areas we have always supported – community centres, youth, general grants.
“And crucially we need to build up a reserve again as we are on the cusp of a major change in local government and at this crucial time this is now needed – so we are responding to the town clerk’s request to build up the reserves.”
The Conservatives proposed a precept increase by a more modest 21%, or £13.66 for a Band D property – almost half the amount proposed by the Labour group.
Cllr Smedley said: “We have looked at the Conservative proposed budget but it is totally and I suspect purposefully unrealistic.
“Sadly, in the Conservatives’ budget, the figure proposed for reserves was far too low to give us a decent cushion in these Covid times.
“So, we need to take the tough choice to raise it to the max and at the same time start to lift Bridgwater’s low precept rate off the ground so that we can genuinely be a growing council.
“The important thing of course is that all the money we raise goes back into the community.”