Residents may be in for an unpleasant surprise as their council tax bills arrive.
The Lydiard Millicent Parish Precept for this year (2016/2017) is £45.98 for a Band D property. That’s an increase of 60.1% on last year. Relative to the total amount of council tax payable, the precept forms a small part. However, it is clearly on an upward trend. Over a five year period, the parish precept has more than doubled.
A Band D property will now pay Council Tax of £1553.49. This includes £1,271.20 of council tax attributable to Wiltshire Council, £69.21 for the police precept and £167.10 for the new combined Dorset and Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service.
For the first time in six years, Wiltshire Council have raised their precept. This year’s increase is 2%, the maximum permitted under restrictions imposed by central Government. There is also a permitted additonal 2% social care levy, intended to fund the shortfall in social care. Combined, this equates to just under a 4% increase in council tax, which will generate £15.9 million in total.
Leader of Wiltshire Council, Baroness Scott attributed the increase largely to changes in central government funding. She said, “This income is vital if we are to meet the demand for key services.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s precept has increased by 1.9%, and the precept for the newly merged Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service by 6.7%.
Because the fire service’s increase is over 2%, it would ordinarily be subject to restrictions imposed by central Government and require a referendum. However, because of the merger, “an alternative notional amount” applies instead of the preceding year’s precept. On top of this increased baseline cost, the authority approved an increase of 1.99%, giving an overall increase of 6.7%.
Chief Fire Officer (Designate), Darran Gunter, explained the increase as necessary in light of government cuts. He said: “In an ideal world, we would not be increasing fire precept. However, our share of the average Band D council tax bill is still significantly less than many of our partners, including a large number of town and parish councils.”
In absolute terms, therefore, Lydiard Millcent Parish Council Precept may not seem so great. Despite Gunter’s claim, in Lydiard’s case at least, the precept is significantly less than the fire authority and police precept. The average parish precept, for a Band D property, in Wiltshire, is £87.20, so Lydiard Millicent is well below the average for the county too.
However, this year’s parish precept increase is one of the highest, in percentage terms. It comes too on top of an overall increase in the amount of council tax payable.
With the possibility of the parish having to plug the shortfall in services due to cuts in Wiltshire Council, that upward trend looks likely to continue, for the timebeing at least.
There is also the on-going issue of the car park/community field project.
In February 2013, the council unanimously agreed to increase the precept by 20% for 2013/2014 “to pave the way forward for the next few years in the light of future precept capping, whereby increases would need to be justified.”
To date, approximately £7,000 has been spent on planning and consultancy fees (in addtion to the capital costs of acquisition). An additional £2,000 is included in the budget for 2016/2017 to take the project forward. However, the last published figures show a projected shortfall of £42,000 (after allowing for allocation of the parish reserves and funding from various third parties).
Bringing the cark park project to fruition without further significant increases to the precept could prove challenging.
Unlike larger authorities, parish councils currently have no duty to hold a referendum if they seek an increase in excess of 2%. However, that may change. The Department for Communities and Local Government has said it may make parish councils subject to referendums if they fail to protect their taxpayers from excessive increases in the future.
Inevitably, opinions will differ on which services the council should provide, and what is an acceptable level of increase in the precept. However, one thing is certain. There will be some difficult choices ahead.