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Issue 342 – Rise in council tax will help achieve a ‘new vision for Frome’

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FROME Town Council has agreed to raise the council tax next year, saying that it is necessary in order to safeguard plans to move Frome forward.

At a meeting of Frome Town Council last week, a budget was agreed that will see the town’s precept rise from £784,711 to £964,609, an increase of around 22 per cent. This equates to an increase of 37p per week for Band D households.
The increase was proposed by the Independents for Frome (IfF) group on the town council. Other councillors voiced their concern about the increase, including comments that the move is premature and only focuses on Frome’s town centre.

Two options

At the meeting, (IfF) cllr Helen Starkie explained why the increase was seen as a necessity. “As a council we have two options,” she said. “One is to do nothing with the precept and risk losing services and organisations of Frome and not move the town forward. The other is to raise the precept and move the town forward.
“We are suffering the worse recession in 40 years; we have rising youth unemployment and empty shops.
“We also have long-standing seemingly intractable problems in town; too much traffic through the centre, haemorrhaging of young talent out of the town, a weak commuter-led economic base and a slowly deteriorating public infrastructure.
“Obviously as a small town council we cannot solve all of this, but we can decide whether we want to look on helplessly or try and influence events. The new localism bill gives us powers we did not have before.”

£5,000 for art strategy

Some of the more notable changes to the budget include £5,000 for Frome’s Art Strategy. This amount will allow backing to a proposal that could see the local arts community working together and could enable some schemes, such as a joint box office for local venues, to proceed.
An additional £40,000 for partnership and community development grants, to support local organisations and groups, which will allow them to not only survive, but thrive in the present economy.
£40,000 will be put into economic development to rethink how the town markets itself. £20,000 will be put into redesigning the Market Place and town cleaning, with £5,000 put into a carbon audit fund, to carry out a study on the town’s use of energy and identify possible opportunities for reductions in both energy and cost.
“There have been no precept increases for three years,” continued cllr Starkie, “admirable at first glance, but unsustainable as the result has been that in recent years the town council has budgeted for annual expenditure higher than the precept, on the basis that the shortfall would be found out of reserves. The budget for the current year, for example, was set on the basis that the council would spend £105,000 more than it will receive in income.
“The brutal truth is that the ‘piggy bank’ can only be raided so many times before its contents run out.
“New schemes we intend to draw up from our strategy are tangible, based around economic development, improving the town centre, marketing the town, revitalising partnerships and improving opening hours at the civic amenity site.
“Of course some will criticise us for the increase on the town council budget, we understand that. This is not an easy decision and is the result of hours of careful thought. It goes without saying that we would have preferred not to have put the precept up. We understand that everyone in town is feeling the pinch – but we need to balance the books, cover expenditure no longer covered by Mendip or Somerset councils and provide for a strong future for Frome – and the additional cost per household will be minimal.”
Cllr James Godman commented, “The precept is already one of the highest in the county and now it’s rising by 20 per cent.”
Cllr Claire Hudson commented, “If you’re going to raise council tax, do it, but don’t hide behind figures. It’s a 22 per cent increase.”
Cllr Adrian Dobson commented on the cost of the Cheese and Grain, describing the venue as a “money pit” with little return to the town council.
However, cllr Mel Usher said that there is not an increase in grant funding for the Cheese and Grain and chose to “suspend the argument of the Cheese and Grain as it’s a totally different topic.”
Cllr Damon Hooton described the budget as “premature” and only “focuses on Frome’s town centre.”
The Independents for Frome voted through the budget proposal, which will be implemented next year.
For a full break down of the budget, you can read more about the IfF budget on their website at www.iffrome.org.uk

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