Rise set to trigger opposition

First published in Local news Wharfedale Observer: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Reporter

A 14 per cent hike in Otley’s local tax is being planned to help deliver “a more active” town council and boost tourism.

The council’s controlling Labour group wants to increase the 2013-2014 precept by just over £40,000 from last year’s level to raise £316,500.

The inflation-busting rise – which follows a £23,525 reduction in 2012 to 2013 and no change the year before – will mean an extra annual charge of £8.10, or 15p a week, for Band D households.

The Wharfedale & Aireborough Observer was briefed on the draft budget ahead of its presentation to the town council next Monday when it is sure to face heavy criticism from the Liberal Democrat-dominated opposition.

Councillor Carl Morris (Lab, Manor), however, insists the plan will bring “tangible benefits” and represents good value for money. He said: “When you factor in the 8 per cent cut we made last year, the precept will now be only 5.5 per cent higher than it was three years ago.

“And when you consider all the different schemes we’re delivering – including fully rebuilt public toilets in Orchard Gate and a new information centre – I’m confident residents will think we’re doing an excellent job.”

The toilets revamp, which is expected to cost about £78,000 in total and will see the frequently vandalised facilities upgraded and staffed, is a £38,000 item in the budget.

That figure includes £9,000 for the first of a series of annual Public Works Loan Board repayments, £4,000 for maintenance and £25,000 for staffing – although the new-look toilets are also expected to bring in about £16,000 per year.

Another £50,000 is being set aside, meanwhile, from the reserves to pay for the refurbishment of offices – also in Orchard Gate – that will become a new town council base and community-focused information centre.

Both moves have been attacked by some members of the opposition, who claim they mean the council has effectively abandoned its commitment to getting the Civic Centre re-opened.

Council leader Councillor John Eveleigh (Lab, Ashfield), however, said: “This budget is all about partnership working.

“Since announcing our plans for the information centre we’ve been greatly encouraged by both local residents’ enthusiasm and that of potential partners, who want to showcase and in some cases provide, their services from there.

“We are of course aware times are hard – hence our additional £4,000 support in the budget for the Citizens Advice Bureau.

“While no one wants to raise the burden of tax we do think it is right to change the complete focus of the council from a body that just looked after ‘civic’ matters.

“We believe much more of the decision making and service provision should be devolved to us. This budget helps us put those steps in place.”

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