Annual budget agreed despite resident’s fears

Councillors have approved the forthc-oming year’s budget despite a resident imploring Alsager Town Council to take money out of its general reserves to prevent rising costs for local taxpayers.
At its meeting last Tuesday, the council determined the full value of its 2020/21 budget, which contains net spending plans to a total of £420,967.
Earmarked reserves, the capital reserve and general reserves are being used to finance expenditure and a precept request of £411,807 has been made to Cheshire East Council.
The annual council tax charge is built up from the annual charges of Cheshire East Council, Alsager Town Council, Cheshire Fire Authority and the police and crime commissioner.
The council tax charge for 2020/21 will be £84.79 per annum per Band D equivalent household, which represents an increase of 2.5% from 2019/20.
The annual charge equates to £1.63 per week per Band D equivalent household.
However, after reading the draft budget, Alsager resident Chris Venables said it seemed that the council’s senior management was providing strong indicators that the increase was not necessary.
Mr Venables made reference to page seven on the draft budget document that the “Government has issued a challenge to town councils not to increase rates — instead use reserves if necessary”.
According to Mr Venables, Joanne Melia, finance manager for the town council, “advised” in the document that up to £65,000 could be taken from the council’s general reserves and this would still allow the budget for 2020/21 to remain within the general reserve policy of 25/50%.
For his own interest, Mr Venables told the committee he had taken a look at how the council’s reserves had recently changed.
At 31st March 2016, they stood at £190,000. By 31st March 2019, this had risen to £323,000 — an increase of £133,000 — and this while spending on approved projects.
Mr Venables said: “I also note that from the current budget year-end projections that approximately £40,000 will be generated from the difference between planned expenditure to income, which would replace any project spending in the current year, leaving reserves unchanged or even further increased.”
“I do appreciate that the budget does contain the use of some reserve, but only £1,000 is being taken from the general reserve and the other from completed projects, costing less than forecast.
“I am sure that no councillors wish to place any unnecessary financial burden on Alsager residents and it is very clear from the draft budget prepared by senior officers that this increase can be completely avoided by transferring £65,000 from the general reserve without any changes to the council’s financial stability, or earmarked or capital spending plans.”
Coun Derek Hough, chair of the Finance Committee, agreed with Mr Venables, adding: “We could have said that we aren’t going to charge anything. However, I think a lot of people in Alsager would agree with us that there is a lot of stuff needs doing.”
The council has approved the corporate strategy, but not the three-year action plan yet.
Coun Hough alluded to the state of the town’s roads and the Cedar Avenue open space area, which is used by allotment-holders, Girlguides, Scouts and St Gabriel’s Primary School as a car park.
He revealed to the committee that the cost of a project to turn the Cedar Avenue land into an adequate car park could be £45,000 to £49,000.
Coun Hough also told the committee that the Hassall Road play area was not “fit for purpose” and that £25,000 was required to carry out the work needed.
Coun Hough added: “We will go forward with this budget as it stands and we are aware that we will have to help out Cheshire East Council.
“We are proud of Alsager, Chris, and I am sure you are too. We want to keep it that way and the only way we can keep it that way is spending money.”
Mr Venables responded: “We’re not spending the money, there are no plans to spend the money.”
Coun Sue Helliwell said: “I don’t mean to be flippant, but it is nice to see finally that Coun Hough believes in double taxation.”
Coun Julian Goodrich said: “My issues with this are we are not preparing like for like because of the increase of the size of the town, so the 2.5% increase is actually more along the lines of a 6.8% increase if you didn’t have the increased taxpayers that we have got.
“So therefore I have problems that we are spending 6.8% more money from last year if you had the same tax base. If you actually had last year’s figures with the increase in payment then the banding would actually come down to £79.36, so that’s before we take into account any reserves.
“My issue is that if it’s like for like without the increased population, without the increase on our taxpayers it’s actually a 6.8% increase, which I find is frankly ridiculous for a council with this amount of reserves.”
The town council provides local services for Alsager residents, as the first tier of local Government. It aims always to provide value for money for council taxpayers in serving the needs of the communities of Alsager.