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One-off council tax rise will give us independence, say councillors

Wednesday, 23rd February 2011.

Town councillors have decided to take 'a window of opportunity' to raise their part of council tax in order to secure the future of Haverhill Arts Centre and possibly also the town's youth provision and library.

At last night's meeting Haverhill Town Council agreed to raise its band D precept from 89.72 to 107.88, but with a promise that, if the extra turned out not to be needed, it would be returned to residents.

Clerk Gordon Mussett said the budget was having to be set at a time of greater uncertainty than the council had ever faced.

Suffolk County Council had decided to axe the town's youth club and there was no indication of what youth service there would be in Haverhill in future; the library, if not axed, may face staffing cuts and reductions in opening; it was not clear how the axed school crossing patrol service could be taken forward; and there was no guarantee from St Edmundsbury Borough Council of future grant funding for the Arts Centre beyond 2012.

The council tax rise would provide re-assurance that whatever St Edmundsbury decided after the May elections about funding for the Arts Centre, the buildiong's future would now be wholly within the town council's hands.

If the borough did come up with a satisfactory grant, the extra raised through the council tax increase could be partly returned to residents and partly used to try to maintain the other services within the town under threat.

Mr Mussett said now was 'a window of opportunity' to raise the levy, because from next year high raises might be subject to a local referendum which would be very costly.

Unless members chose in future to increase services to residents, the new level of the town council's levy would never need to rise substantially again.

It will cause the only increase in this year's council tax, as the larger elements of the bill, for the county and borough councils and the police authority, are being frozen.

All parties on the town council agreed to the increase. Independent member Cllr Margaret Marks proposed the vote, saying the council had spent too long debating the issue of the Arts Centre.

"This will make us independent of the borough council, and we can decide locally how we can use the money for the benefit of the public here in Haverhill," she said.

Labour group leader Cllr Maureen Byrne said St Edmundsbury had left the town council with a 'monstrous' decision to make.

"It's not just about activities being slashed - and we should be proud of what is done in the Arts Centre - but if we don't put the precept up we'll have redundancies and job losses," she said.

"The saddest thing is we can't trust what the borough councillors say, and the people of Haverhill should know that when they pay their taxes Bury benefits as well as Haverhill.

"But we will give this money back to residents if we possibly can."

The proposal was seconded by the Conservative leader of the council Cllr Paul McManus.

Haverhill Online News

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