A TOWN council is set to demand an increase of almost 41 per cent from taxpayers this year.
Although Leek Town Council is yet to agree on its final precept – the money it asks Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to collect from taxpayers on its behalf – for the financial year of 2014/15, councillors have ruled that it could be increased by 40.71 per cent.
The increase comes as the council sees a 9.6 per cent reduction in the grant it gets from the Government via the district authority.
The increase would see an average Band D property paying £23.26 to the town council per year, instead of £16.53 – an increase of £6.73.
The initial proposed precept was set at a 31 per cent increase, which took into account the £25,000 a year for three years that the council has already agreed to give to the Foxlowe Arts Centre in Leek.
It would also pay for an increase of hours for the town clerk, and storage costs for new pop-up gazebos that the council is due to purchase.
However, during a meeting of the town authority, Councillor John Povey recommended charging another £10,0000.
This would add to the £40,000 that the town council will be getting from housing group Ascent to improve the Ball Haye Green Recreational Grounds in Leek – bringing the increase to a 40.71 per cent rise. Councillor Neal Podmore said: "It's hard to hear the rationale.
"Such an increase is going to be hard for the people of Leek to swallow."
Although the precept was put on the public agenda of the town council meeting, due to the discussion of staff salaries being a part of the precept, further discussion of the item was carried out behind closed doors.
Speaking to the Post & Times after the meeting, Leek Mayor John Fisher said: "The precept has not been set yet.
"It will be decided in our February meeting.
"However, there are a number of items which will increase this year's precept.
"One is the money that the town council has agreed to use to support the Foxlowe Arts Centre, which is £25,000 a year for three years at the point of purchase.
"There is also the additional cost the council will have to store the pop-up gazebos, which are to be purchased using the Mary Portas money, and there is the £10,000 which was put forward to top up what is being spent on a new play area at Ball Haye Green Recreational Grounds.
"The town council are also considering increasing the hours of our town clerk from four days a week to five. I think this is in the town's interest as our town clerk now has a lot of extra duties which come from the funding bidding culture."
Mr Fisher admitted: "It does sound a big increase, but it's £6.73 a year – a few pence a week.
"Among other things, this will ensure the Foxlowe purchase goes ahead.
"It could not happen without it. I think this is a trailblazing effort by Leek Town Council to support a very successful arts centre.
"I also think it is right to increase our town clerk's hours as it is not good for the public to have the doors of our office shut every Thursday, and with the council having new initiatives to deal with it is value for money. If you look at other town councils, they have more employees."
The final decision on Leek Town Council's 2014-15 percept will be made at the council's meeting on February 18.