Concern over town council's spending

MORE than half of taxpayers' cash in a west Suffolk town is being spent on council bureaucracy, sparking fears that a big council tax increase is “inevitable”.

MORE than half of taxpayers' cash in a west Suffolk town is being spent on council bureaucracy, sparking fears that a big council tax increase is “inevitable”.

Just seven months into the current financial year, Bury St Edmunds Town Council has spent £69,123 on staff and a further £43,660 on administration.

But the council's slice of council tax, which is raised through a precept, amounts to just £180,945, meaning more than half its tax revenue is already been taken up on staff and administration costs alone.

As a result the council has had to dip into its reserve budget to meet the costs of delivering the range of services it provides.

This has led to fears of a “massive council tax rise” on the horizon because the council does not have the reserves to meet its current spending on services.

But Rebecca Hopfensperger, mayor of Bury St Edmunds, said the council was ambitious in what it wanted to achieve for people in the town and needed a professional and well-equipped team to deliver its services.

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She said the town council had one of the lowest town council precepts in the area at just over £13.

“We have kept council tax low and not even changed it in line with inflation. We have been lucky that we have a lot in reserve but the more services we take on the more we will have to dip into these reserves,” she said.

“If we are to be a professional organisation, we need professional people and a professional office building where people can reach us.”

She said the accounts were not only updated on a monthly basis but were also internally audited each month, adding: “We manage our budgets very strictly and efficiently.”

A rise in the council tax precept, she added, would have to be discussed if the council was to continue carrying out its current levels of work.

Although the council's own forecast shows an end of year staffing spend of £84,295 - about £15,000 more than already spent - David Nettleton, a member for Bury St Edmunds Town Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, claims it could reach £120,000.

If Mr Nettleton is right, it would mean the council will spent nearly 90% of its council tax revenue on bureaucracy, with just £21,000 left to spend on providing services.

Mr Nettleton said he feared a “massive council tax rise” was likely if the council kept spending at its current levels.

He said the “river would run dry” if the council continued spending at its current rate.

But Mr Nettleton said the £160,000 he forecasts as being spent this year on bureaucracy was “necessary spending” if the town wanted a town council.

The council is now looking at hosting seminars on employment law and health and safety to generate additional funds.

laurence.cawley@eadt.co.uk

A snapshot much people pay for their town and parish councils (based on band D) in precepts for 2006/2007:

Bury St Edmunds Town Council £13.95

East Bergholt Parish Council £38.50

Great Cornard Parish Council £67.75

Sudbury Town Council £107.57

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