Knutsford Town Council is aware of the recent comments in the Knutsford Guardian concerning the council’s 2020/21 budget and precept (our share of the council tax) and wishes to provide additional clarity on the changes and answer some people’s concerns.
What is the change?
The Town Council sets an annual precept which is collected as part of Council Tax. In 2019 this cost a Band D taxpayer £64 per year and in 2020 this will increase to £88. This is an increase of £24 over 12 months.
This change sees the council collect £511,118 from council tax, a £140,048 increase on the 2019 figure of £371,070.
How did the Belle Epoque affect the budget?
La Belle Epoque Limited was a tenant at 60 King Street, a property owned by the Town Council. Under the lease, which was agreed with the former tenant the council was required to undertake the maintenance of the building which owing to its age and listed-status was significant and on-going.
The former tenant, La Belle Epoque Limited is now in liquidation; the company entered this owing the Town Council just over £67,000, primarily for legal fees incurred by the Town Council in seeking to enforce the lease. Towards the end of the tenancy La Belle Epoque Limited had been failing to pay rent on time for almost three years and had been frustrating the council’s ability to undertake essential maintenance. While the Town Council took no pleasure in terminating the lease with the company we did so in the long-term interests of our taxpayers.
The short term consequence of the termination is that the council has incurred additional costs; including paying for the removal of the rubbish and furniture left by the tenant, additional maintenance of the vacant building as well as the costs involved in obtaining a new tenant. These have been in the region of £19,000. The Town Council had also spent just over £46,000 from its general reserve fund in the 2018 financial year to cover the cost of scheduled maintenance which it planned to cover from the 2019 rent. In total this left our year end position with a combined deficit of £132,000.
The Town Council took the decision to forfeit the lease with a view to securing a new tenant on better terms. The Town Council is currently considering bids from three prospective tenants and under all options the tenant will be responsible for the maintenance of the building; rather than the next five years seeing the council make no surplus on the property (as we would have under the old lease), we anticipate that our 2021 budget will see a surplus that would allow the council to reduce the precept.
In addition, the Town Council’s Finance Committee will be looking at reviewing the council’s reserves policies with a view to ensuring that the council’s reserves can better accommodate any future changes in tenant without needing to rely on a precept increase.
Why increase the staff budget?
The Town Council’s staff budget has increased by around £50,000 for 2020. £20,000 of this is covered by the income from Knutsford Cemetery which the Town Council became responsible for in January and this funds the administration and maintenance of the cemetery.
During 2019 the Town Council undertook a root and branch review of its staffing. This resulted in the creation of a separate Events Officer role (previously combined in other roles) to provide better management of the organisation of the council’s events programme and an increase in the number of hours for our Town Ranger so he can spend more time out and about tackling the small jobs that matter to residents. The new staffing structure ensures that the council has the staff it needs to deliver the varied services we provide to the Knutsford community.
What does the Town Council do for £88?
Here’s just a few of the things we do for the £88 charged to a Band D property the Town Council:
- Provides funding support to local charities and community groups
- Funds the provision of the Citizens Advice service in Knutsford
- Provides public toilets, allotments, the market hall, a cemetery and Wallwood
- Will be renovating/creating gardens behind Booths Supermarket and around the Chelford Road Obelisk
- Will be undertaking reviews of the town Conservation Areas to ensure our heritage is preserved
- Organises the Bunny Hop, Pumpkin Path, Music Festival, Christmas Lights and Christmas Market to help keep our town thriving
- Will be organising a street party on the Moor to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day
Statement from the Mayor
Town Mayor, Cllr Andrew Malloy said “As taxpayers ourselves, councillors are of course very conscious of the impact of any rise on our residents. We know that a 37% increase sounds dramatic but encourage residents to consider the pounds and pence – this increase is £24.07 over 12 months, or 46p per week”
“Whilst it is too early to prepare our 2021 budget, I can say that we have the intention to reduce the precept next year and we fully expect we will be able to”
“As well as seeking to secure increased net income from 60 King Street, the council is looking to reduce the costs of operating its public toilets and looking to secure tenants for new commercial spaces it is creating within the buildings”
“We welcome scrutiny of our budget, which is available on our website, and invite residents with queries about any aspect of the budget to contact our Town Clerk.”