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Otley Town Council lambasted for its 'unprecedented' spending
“Profligate spending on an unprecedented scale” – that is how Otley's Liberal Democrats branded a new Town Council budget that will see the local levy increase by 14.5 per cent.
The rise means people in most Band D households will pay just over £8 a year more on the precept for 2013 to 2014.
The £316,500 budget includes plans to create a new information centre and council base, and to rebuild and staff the frequently vandalised toilets on Orchard Gate.
Both initiatives were attacked by Lib Dem councillors at Monday's policy and resources committee meeting.
Councillor Jim Spencer, who proposed an unsuccessful alternative motion to freeze the precept, said: “The council reduced the precept last year because, morally, we felt we had no choice due to the hardship people were facing.
“This year things are worse, but the budget proposes to increase the precept to the highest level ever. We think this is profligate spending and, for Otley, on an unprecedented scale.
“We're talking about spending money on offices and toilets we don't own, while gambling on an income of £16,000 – Labour's estimate of how much the revamped toilets will make – which we think is unlikely.”
Labour insists the information centre will provide a disabled accessible, town centre hub where – working with other organisations – all kinds of services can be provided.
The upgrading and maintenance of the toilets is expected to cost £38,000 a year, which includes a series of £9,000 Public Works Loan Board repayments, while £50,000 has been set aside to upgrade the information centre building, also on Orchard Gate.
Labour leader Councillor John said: “This is about delivering services and the council's position in terms of delivering them.
“I'm astounded the Lib Dems are proposing a precept freeze when we're currently in offices that are, by any standard, unsatisfactory, not disabled friendly and with no confidentiality.
“Times are hard but let's get this into some sort of perspective, we’re talking about £8 or so a year.”
Town mayor Councillor Mary Vickers, despite voting against the budget, said afterwards: “Residents need somewhere they can access information and meet other organisations, including councillors, to be able to discuss any problems.
“The Labour council has come up with a solution – a new centre, larger than the present office and next to the bus station.
“We need to move forward, sometimes we need to take risks, and I hope Labour can make it work. They deserve our support.”
The council's only Independent member, Councillor Nigel Francis – who could not attend on Monday – agreed.
He said: “I would have supported this. A 14 per cent rise sounds a lot but you've got to remember we're working with low figures here.
“If we can improve our offices and put things in there that will benefit people, and provide decent toilets we've got to have, it will be a step forward.”