Low tax priority as District Council freezes Council Tax again.
Stimulating the local economy and keeping Council Tax low to support hard-pressed local residents and business have been set as key priorities by the councillor responsible for setting budgets at Epping Forest District Council. Councillor Syd Stavrou, Finance Portfolio Holder made the commitment as budgets were agreed at the meeting of Epping Forest District Council on Tuesday 19 February 2013.
Reductions in staff costs, a freeze on Council Tax and no increase in pay and display car park charges were key features in Epping Forest District Council’s own budget for 2013/14. There will also be no increase in the Council Tax levy collected by the District on behalf of Essex County Council, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and many local town and parish councils. However, the charge set for the first time by the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston is to increase by 3.49 per cent (£4.77 a year on an average Band D property).
Councillor Stavrou said: “Epping Forest District Council has not increased its own share of the Council Tax since 2010. Savings of £1.4 million have been achieved in the 2013/14 budget. By changing the way it structures and delivers services, Epping Forest District Council has been able to make savings without major reductions in front-line services. We have good levels of reserves. A significant proportion of the savings in the new budget comes from reducing the size of the district council workforce (saving salary costs of £400,000) without the need for compulsory redundancies. By delivering services in new and better ways the council has further increased efficiency.”
She continued: “Contributions from the New Homes Bonus and high levels of recycling by residents also help to keep Council Tax down. Epping Forest District Council will protect front-line services while balancing large reductions in Central Government funding. Additional savings of almost £200,000 in 2012/13 have helped cushion the council from one of the toughest spending rounds I can remember. Stimulating the local economy is one of our top priorities. The protection of local services and freeze on Council Tax comes as many other councils continue to make major cuts in services to meet budget pressures.”
Gross expenditure (excluding the Housing Revenue Account), the amount Epping Forest District Council spends before income is taken into account, will be £73 million next year. Less than £7.5 million will be raised in Council Tax towards the District Council’s net expenditure budget of just over £14 million. About £3 million will come from Business Rates (National Non-Domestic Rates) with most of the rest coming from other income such as reduced Government grants, fees, charges, rent on commercial property and investments.
Broken down into its constituent parts, the total bill for an average Band D Council taxpayer in Epping Forest district will be:
* £148.77 to Epping Forest District Council
and collected on behalf of organisations
* £1,086.75 to Essex County Council
* £141.48 to Essex Police
* £66.42 to Essex Fire Authority
Parish and town council precepts will vary and can be seen on the Council tax precepts.
Councillor Syd Stavrou added: “We believe local residents are best placed to decide how to spend their money and we hope they will spend it locally. Our aim is to stimulate the local economy by ensuring local people have as much money in their pockets to spend on local goods and services as possible. We are also holding down pay and display car park charges to encourage as much of that spend as possible in our local high streets.”
Other items on the agenda at Full Council
In a council meeting dominated by finance and budgets, other items included updates on the Local Plan, economic development and the annual conference of the Local Strategic Partnership, One Epping Forest. Councillors also expressed concern following uncertainty caused by Essex County Council over future funding of the locally provided Careline emergency alarm service.
Questions to members of the Cabinet ranged from the Buckhurst Hill parking review, the resumption of council house building and concerns about rough sleepers to fly-tipping of dead horses, the condition of shops surrounding Sainsbury’s in Debden Broadway and exceptional levels of recycling reaching nearly 64 per cent in the last quarter.
Other questions were raised over London Underground congestion statistics on the Central Line following the latest announcements on Cross Rail by the Mayor of London.
Epping Forest District Councillors receive a basic allowance of £3,150 a year. At the annual review of their expenses, councillors rejected an independent panel recommendation to increase their basic allowance after being told they receive one of the lowest in the country. While expressing thanks to the panel for their work, councillors felt that any increase would be inappropriate when many residents are struggling in the current economic climate.
Councillors supported the creation of a new Cabinet Committee responsible for taking forward the new council house building programme.