A TOWN council has agreed to increase its share of tax bills by 32.8 per cent after an equal split in voting was then decided by the mayor’s casting vote.
Leek Town Council finalised its precept – the amount it asks Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to collect for it through Council Tax – for the financial year of 2014/15 at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
It had been discussed at a previous meeting to increase the precept by 40.71 percent.
The £5.42 annual increase for a band D property, taking the precept from £16.53 to £21.95, comes after the town council agreed to pay £25,000 next year towards helping to purchase the Foxlowe Arts Centre, £5,000 towards extra play equipment at Ball Haye Green Recreational Grounds, and an increase in the town clerk's hours, as well as costs for storage and erection of gazebos which the town council is purchasing using Leek's allocation of the Mary Portas High Street fund.
During a debate before the vote, Councillor Neal Podmore said he felt the proposed rise was “preposterous “. He said: "In my mind it is irresponsible."
With regards to the extra £5,000 proposed to be used for play equipment at the Ball haye Green Recreational Grounds, Mr Podmore said: "We already have a significant amount of expenditure set aside for this in £40,000 from Ascent Housing.
However, councillor Pam Wood reminded fellow councillors that there had not been a rise in the town council's precept for the past two years, and that there was a decrease last year of four per cent.
She said: "We have a duty as a town council to be proactive. We can't leave the heritage of Leek to the district council.
"We are giving around £10,000 to Leek Citizens’ Advice Bureau this year, which we have been doing for years. We are giving in total more than £16,000 this year to groups in the town which are not all used by everyone."
Councillor Charlotte Atkins added: "We have a duty to protect our town and we need to consider the increase of internet shopping. We do have a relatively healthy high street but in other towns across the country, high streets are dying.
"We need to bring people into town with places like The Foxlowe."
Councillor Margaret Lovatt said of the extra £5,000 for play equipment at the Ball Haye Recreational Grounds: “The fact that it has now been discussed to have £5,000 instead of £10,000 is a compromise.
“The Ball Haye Green Recreational Grounds is town council responsibility. As it is now it is a pathetic excuse of a play area. The equipment there goes back 20 years. We have a duty to provide quality play equipment.”
Councillor Barry Cowie defended the costs set to be incurred by the town council for the gazebos. He said: “We are going to make money from the gazebos and will be able to use them for town council events.”
After a 30 minute debate about the proposed precept, Councillor Podmore proposed to amend the precept to a zero per cent rise by not including the Foxlowe Arts Centre donation or the extra money for play equipment at Ball Haye Green Recreational Ground, and to decrease other town council budgets to compensate for the extra hours for the town clerk.
Mr Podmore's proposal was seconded by councillor John Povey and it then went to a named vote.
Those in favour of the zero per cent proposal were councillors Ben Emery, Brian Johnson, Robert Plant, Neal Podmore, Alex Povey and John Povey.
Those against were councillors Charlotte Atkins, Barry Cowie, John Fisher, Keith Harrison, Margaret Lovatt, and Pam Wood.
As the vote was an equal split of six in favour and six against, it went to the chairman of the meeting, Leek Town Mayor John Fisher, who had the casting vote, to which he said he would stick to his 'no' vote.
Mr Fisher then asked councillors to vote on the original proposed precept of a 32.8 per cent rise which led to another equal split vote with Mr Fisher having the casting vote of yes.
After the decision was finalised, the meeting went to its standard 'public participation' which saw Leek resident Harold Critchlow refer to a letter he had sent to the Leek Post & Times, and which had also been forwarded to each town councillor.
He said: "The letter is written by myself and Julie Pointon but is also the feelings of everyone we have spoken to.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have nothing against the Foxlowe but people are feeling very amazed.
“That you can give £75,000 to something like this is unbelievable.”