Ripon residents shell out as council raise precept by £57,000

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Ripon residents will pay out more this year after the city council increased its budget by more than 30 per cent.

At a Full Council meeting on Monday, Ripon City Council agreed to raise the precept for the third time in four years.

The increase means the council will collect more than £57,000 extra in its budget compared with the £174,437 brought in during 2015/16.

Councillors voted by nine votes to two, with two abstentions, to accept the proposed budget, which will see an increase of around 22p per week for Band D properties.

Coun Peter Pearson (Con), chairman of the finance and general purposes committee, explained that the extra money will mean a ‘significant increase’ in money available for grants.

He said: “In 2014, we were left in a position where we did not have any funds to give to various organisations within Ripon.

“The council agreed that we would give them whatever money was left at the end of the year and eventually that came to around £10,500.

“This budget will enable us to use our money to attract resources from grants and other organisations to deliver projects and services that will meet our, and our residents’, aspirations.

“Sometimes we have to make very difficult decisions but we need to ensure that we can invest in the future of our City.”

This year’s increase means that, since 2010, the precept has risen by 86 per cent, from £124,000 to £234,404.

During that time, the council has increased its spending on staff by more than £68,000 but the amount given in grants has reduced from £43,789 to the £42,000 earmarked for this financial year.

The £42,000 of grant money in this year’s council’s budget, from April 2016, includes £12,000 for small grants and £15,000 for working partnership organisations.

Another £15,000 has been set aside for a strategic investment fund which will be utilised if and when the council identify opportunities for investing improvements in the city.

Coun Pearson explained that, while they had none ‘specifically in mind’, the money could be used for large-scale projects which require initial investment to release further funds.

The council did debate whether to take money from reserves in order to reduce the increase in precept, with Coun Andrew Williams (Ind) favouring this approach.

Coun Williams, former chairman of the finance and general purposes committee in 2010/11, accused the council of sitting on ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ of reserves.

He said: “I don’t see why we should increase our precept when we can fund what we said wanted to achieve on Monday night without such a dramatic increase on the precept.

“The council has a desire to fund some strategic investment projects but those are non recurring expenditure items.

“They could have been funded from our high levels of reserves rather thank asking residents to pay more on the precept.

“It’s just wrong to ask people to pay extra in terms of council tax when we are sat on money.”

Coun Pearson explained that the council was wary of drawing money from reserves as it would not have a safe amount left to cover them for future years.

He said: “The independent advice we have received is to keep three to 12 months of our gross expenditure in reserve and, for a council the size of Ripon, 12 months is preferable.

“This is not far short of what we have actually got so we are just covered but if we had drawn from the reserves then we would not have this cover.

“If we draw from reserves this year, then next year if we put the precept up by whatever it would be, we would also not have the reserves to cover it.”

The Mayor of Ripon, Coun Pauline McHardy, also defended the increasing of the precept as she said it would make the city a better place for residents.

She said: “This has been a very difficult decision and I know that all councillors feel uncomfortable about this increase when residents face other rising costs.

“However, one of the roles of the Council is to work with other organisations that are trying to do good things for this City and we simply have not been able to financially support them over the last few years.”