After a passionate debate, councillors have voted to increase Gillingham Town Council’s precept by 4.86 percent for the year 2021-2022.
The resulting rise will mean that residents living in a band D property will add an extra £12 a year or £1 a month to council tax bills.
The decision by the Town Council on Monday night came after councillors voted to increase the level of spending above that provisionally agreed last November, adding extra money to pay for tree-planting and maintenance, murals in the town and a bigger budget to review the town’s Neighbourhood Plan in the face of planned new developments in the town.
This raised the town’s planned budget from £963,227 to £980,876.
A number of councillors opposed the last-minute increases, arguing that because of the Covid crisis the council should not be planning extra expenditure. They argued that the precept rise should stay at 2.9 percent, as agreed in principle at the Full Council meeting on November 30.
Councillor Val Pothecary asked: ‘What practical benefits would a total increase in a budget of almost £47,000 bring to those of our residents who are struggling to house or feed their families, who are worried about their jobs and the education of their families? None I suspect.’
She told the online meeting: ‘I wanted to reiterate the extreme difficulties that our residents are facing with many losing businesses and/or their jobs. Times are really hard and a huge increase in people using food banks is testimony to their struggle. I would very respectfully remind my fellow councillors that we are here to serve – not to be self-serving.’
Her argument was backed by Councillor Sharon Cullingford, who told the meeting: ‘I do not feel this is the time to raise the budget, especially after we went through through it so painstakingly back on the 30th of November.’
However, other councillors supported the last-minute increases, in particular the extra money for a review of the Neighbourhood Plan, which sets out the town’s wishes in terms of planning and development.
Councillor Graham Pouletr said: ‘I am sure we all agree that the review of the Neighbourhood Plan is absolutely necessary. We are being overrun by planning applications to develop all around this town. And from my personal contact with locals they object very, very vehemently to these applications.’
He continued: ‘It’s incumbent upon us as a council to do what we can to assist and provide them with an answer and a defence to these planning applications. For that, regrettably, we need money.
‘It is a burden upon our town, of course. But my view is that [local residents] would accept that it’s worth every penny to contribute towards this, if it helps to see off these marauding developers.’
And Councillor Mike Gould said: ‘Obviously this is a very difficult period at the moment. But the challenge we have got is the ongoing rape of the greenfield sites around the town by developers. At the moment our Neighbourhood Plan is not robust enough to counteract this. Therefore I feel we have to address this matter with a degree of urgency and we do need the funds for that. I think most residents would support us in this aim.’
A motion to keep the increase at 2.9 percent was defeated by nine votes to six. The motion to increase the precept by 4.86 percent was carried by eleven votes to four.
*The bulk of people’s council tax bills comes from the amount paid to Dorset Council for its services. That council will set its budget at a meeting on February 16 and it looks likely to approve an increase of just below 5 percent, just under 3 percent of which is specifically to fund adult social care. This would equate to the rate for Band D properties increasing from £1,694.79 to £1,779.39, an increase of £84.60 for the year, or £1.62 per week. The fire and police services will also set their own precepts, which both contribute to the final council tax bill paid by residents.