Nineteen pence a month. That is the increase residents of Marlborough face from an increase in the town council’s precept following the council’s annual budget making meeting last night.
The council approved a total budget of £406,980 for the coming financial year, which includes the proposed £65,000 cost of its controversial town hall improvements project, due now to be debated at a public meeting on March 26.
Details of the council’s public consultation exercise will by then have been transcribed on to a spread sheet, along with the comments of residents on the scheme, which could cost £1 million if paid for by way of a Public Works Loan Board funding.
But, as the Mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson (pictured), told protestors who packed the council chamber: “The consultation is not a plebiscite on what people want or do not want.”
But he gave an assurance that the council would take into consideration the fact that there might be a small minority who favoured the project or a large majority against it.
And he said that despite a petition presented at the council meeting by Ian Philpott signed by 1006 residents of the Manton area opposed to what he described as “non-essential” town hall improvements. Mr Philpott , who is the lead administrator in Marlborough for the Devizes Conservative Association, attended the meeting as a local resident.
But the expected explosive debate on the town hall failed to materialise. The Conservative councillors who have signalled their opposition to it instead changed tactics and called for £10,000 to be put into the budget as an initial payment for a CCTV installation to cut crime in the town.
Councillor Stewart Dobson, their leader, suggested cuts in committee budgets already agreed to pay for this, but the reductions were rejected as unattainable by finance committee chairman Councillor Andrew Ross.
He pointed out too that the budget had no specific funding commitment for either the introduction of CCTV or a new Tourist Information Centre. The budget had also set aside only £6,000 for a Kennet Place flood alleviation scheme due to go ahead this year.
But there is always a possibility that these initiatives might be funded out of the council’s reserves.
Derek Wolfe, Marlborough’s new acting town clerk, told the meeting that when CCTV was introduced into Keynsham whilst he was town clerk there, it had taken more than a year to finalise the scheme. Putting £10,000 into the budget would not necessarily be required now.
The CCTV proposal was defeated by 11 votes to four.
Councillor Ross told the council that Marlborough’s precept accounted for only seven per cent of local taxation. The 19 pence a month rise for a Band D householder was equivalent to just 1.93 per cent.
Town and parish councils, he pointed out, did not receive the two and a half percent grant increase available to local authorities and warned that the council had to be aware of rising inflation and cost creep.
He was insistent that the future of the town hall was not a liability for the town council but a basic responsibility, and added: “The campaign against the project has been fuelled by misinformation and misunderstanding.”
He referred to a meeting with two women opposed to the improvement project who, when they talked, showed that they had no understanding of the financial implications involved “and the financial savings that the scheme attracts.”
A separate report will follow on the CCTV debate.