200pc rise in Harleston council tax levy
Residents in Harleston will see their parish precept soar by a staggering 200pc after a financial crisis that left the town council near bankruptcy. It means the annual levy will increase from £60 a year to £184.
Residents in Harleston will see their parish precept soar by a staggering 200pc after a financial crisis that left the town council near bankruptcy.
It means the annual levy will increase from £60 a year to £184.02 in April for an average Band D property - adding to the overall council tax burden for householders in Harleston and Redenhall. It is likely to be one of the highest demands in the area for a town of its size.
And last night, South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said he will ask the authority's independent scrutiny committee to investigate the matter: “To see what lessons can be learned from the shortcomings at Harleston so they are not repeated elsewhere.”
The £295,000 precept for the coming financial year was unanimously agreed by town councillors after it emerged the council would be £65,000 in the red by January if spending continued at the current rate.
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Criticism was levelled at town clerk Brian Harding - currently on sick leave - whose job includes the role of “responsible financial officer”, when a member of the public asked what had gone wrong.
Speaking at the meeting, Sue Kuzmic, town council chairman, said: “The members did ask through the year for the financial position. We think we were given incorrect information by the clerk. I think that would be everyone's feeling. You can ask for financial information but unless that officer gives you information you cannot act on financial advice. We will be parting ways on mutual grounds.”
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Resident Alec Cooper said he was concerned at Harleston council's policy of dipping into reserve funds to keep the parish precept low.
“I hope some method is going to be evolved that it is automatically flagged up that you keep your house in order,” he said.
Andy Radford, South Norfolk Council's financial director, told the assembly he was willing to recommend offering a loan of almost £40,000 to Redenhall with Harleston council, on condition an action plan is developed to make improvements he has outlined.
The money will support some of the set-up costs the council incurred in taking over management of Harleston leisure centre, other major expenses including new allotments, and the £20,000 to lease the car parks to retain free parking.
There was applause when former Harleston district councillor, the Rev Clive Hudson, said: “I think we have got councillors now who are trying to achieve something. They were left with a millstone round their necks.”
Mr Fuller said: “It seems extraordinary that those who attended the meeting cheered an enormous increase in Harleston council tax precept at a time when residents can least afford it. People deserve answers. I am told it is 25 years since there has been a town council election in Harleston. Is it now time to have an election so local residents can say whether they approve this recovery plan or not?”