Horsham District Council is set to freeze its share of the council tax bill for the third consecutive year - but as government grants continue to plunge, car park charges will have to rise and residents will have to fork out £29 annually if they want their green waste collected.
The proposals - accurately predicted by this newspaper a month ago - were outlined this week by the council’s Conservative leader Ray Dawe and chief executive Tom Crowley.
Based on a County Times’ survey several years ago and on-going comment from readers, a freeze on council tax is likely to be widely welcomed and heralded as a great achievement for the council in the current economic circumstance.
But despite having saved more than £7m over the past five years and having reduced staff numbers by over 100, the financial climate remains so tough that the council will still have to find a further £1.25m of efficiency savings over the next two years to balance the books if it is not going to have to make cuts in services or raise prices elsewhere.
Overall, car parking charges are likely to rise by an average of 12 per cent - with some of the most popular town centre car parks increasing their costs by 20 per cent, like Swan Walk where a two hour ticket will increase from £2 to £2.40. But there will be some additional benefits for users with investment in improving machinery and other aspects of Swan Walk.
Car parks that are less used but still in the town centre will however see much smaller rises like The Forum where the increase will be capped at about seven per cent with an hourly equivalent price of 85p. The aim is to encourage greater usage of these.
The council expects no decline in car park usage despite the inflation-busting rises, and estimates that its car park income will grow from its current £2.5m to £2.8m without any damage to Horsham’s retail economy.
Its green waste collection service was introduced eight years ago but the council can no longer afford to provide this free of charge as it would put other services at risk. A proposal is therefore being considered to start charging £29 per year - equating to just 55p per week.
Every neighbouring West Sussex council already charges for this with some as high as £72.
But Mr Dawe said there were no plans to reduce the general refuse collections from weekly to fortnightly as has occurred elsewhere.
The extra revenue from green waste is estimated at about half a million pounds a year. Having surveyed three similar councils, Horsham conservatively estimates that 40 per cent of households will choose to pay.
Mr Dawe made clear that Horsham’s aim was to maintain the council’s fine record of delivering high standards - but the emphasis would be to keep council tax as low as possible while increasing charges over those services that people could choose to use or not.
Horsham’s share of council tax at Band D will remain at less than £140 per year - about £2.60 per week.
But more efficiency savings are still being sought.
“Driven by continuing government grant reductions Horsham District Council faces very serious economic and financial challenges next year and beyond,” Mr Dawe said. “Such reductions are causing many councils to increase council tax charges or to cut services whereas HDC is proposing to do neither.
“Despite already having saved more than £7m over the past five years, and having reduced staff numbers by over 100, by 2015-16 the council anticipates a budget deficit of £2.6m.”
The council is looking at a number of ways of addressing the gap through generating more income, improving the value for money offered, and looking for a further £1.25m in savings - and ensuring that, wherever appropriate, users pay for the services that they choose to use.
“The council recognises that in times of austerity many residents are finding the financial situation difficult so it is proposing freezing council tax for another year. Everyone, regardless of their income will benefit from this freeze. The council is looking at an approach of charging residents for services which they choose to take, rather than loading these charges on to everyone in the council tax charge. This way those people who do not use some of the services will not be subsidising those who do.”
Roger Arthur, cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “This Conservative run council is making the best of a very difficult situation, creating room for manoeuvre so that services residents value can continue in the face of constant reductions in Government funding and we can sustain our record of being one of the finest and safest places in the UK in which to live. We are taking action today to make sure that services can continue tomorrow.”
A statement released by the council today (Wednesday November 21) said:
Driven by continuing Government grant reductions, Horsham District Council faces very serious economic and financial challenges next year and beyond.
Such reductions are causing many councils to increase Council Tax charges or to cut services whereas Horsham District Council is proposing to do neither.
Despite already having saved more than £7 million over the past five years, by 2015/16 the council anticipates a budget deficit in the region of £2.6 million.
Horsham District Council’s cabinet meets on Thursday November 29 to consider this situation.
The cabinet is looking at a number of ways to address the gap through generating more income, improving the value for money provided by the organisation through a complete business transformation programme aimed at looking for a further £1.25m in savings, and ensuring that, where appropriate, users pay for the services that they choose to use.
The cabinet recognises that in times of austerity many residents are finding the financial situation difficult so it is proposing to freeze Council Tax for another year.
Everyone, regardless of their income, will benefit from this freeze.
This continues the policy whereby council tax payers to Horsham District Council will not have seen an increase in their council tax bills for the fourth year running.
Horsham District Council currently retains 9p in every £1 collected in council tax, passing the remainder onto West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police.
The district council is looking at a fairer approach of charging residents for services which they choose to use, rather than loading charges on to all through council tax, irrespective of whether they use the service.
This way those people who do not use some of services will not be subsidising those who do.
The Cabinet will accordingly be proposing an opt-in charge for household green waste collection and that car parking charges will be increased in Horsham town centre.
A household green waste collection service was introduced in the Horsham district eight years ago but the council can no longer afford to provide this free of charge, as to do so would put other services at risk.
A proposal is therefore being considered to start charging £29 a year for this service. This equates to a charge of 56p a week. The council notes that every neighbouring West Sussex council already charges for similar green waste collections with some charging as much as £72 a year.
In a further measure to close the budget gap, it is proposed that price increases will be made in Horsham town centre car parks.
Past experience has shown that despite certain car parks being more expensive than others, customers continue to park there despite cheaper parking being available only a very short distance away.
It is proposed, therefore, that customers will still have the choice of using the most popular car parks where charges will be highest but also have the availability of lower cost town centre parking very close by at the equivalent rate of 80p an hour in The Forum and just over 50p an hour at Hurst Road.
These proposed car park charges maintain Horsham’s position as offering the cheapest town centre car parking compared to neighbouring shopping towns of Chichester, Worthing, Crawley and Guildford.
Speaking this week, Roger Arthur, Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for efficiency and resources, said: “The council is making the best of a very difficult situation, creating financial room for manoeuvre so that services residents value can continue in the face of constant reductions in Government funding.
“This approach continues to sustain our record of being one of the finest and safest places in the UK in which to live.
“We are taking action today to make sure that services can continue tomorrow.”
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