WOKING Borough Council will pull in an additional £156,000 from taxpayers under new budget plans.
A 1.9 per cent rise in council tax is among the key changes outlined in a new financial document that were recommended last Thursday.
The increase comes despite the opportunity to tap into a council tax ‘freeze grant’ from Government.
Conservative Council Leader John Kingsbury defended the decision and stressed that the ‘modest’ increase was in the best interest of the borough in the long term.
He said: “The grant of £85,000 a year is only available for two years, after which it ceases, giving the council a further savings requirement on top of the funding the Government has signalled it will withdraw.
“We expect no Government support by 2018 − possibly sooner − and we are determined to be more self-reliant. In the meantime, it is in the interest of residents that we maintain the real-term value of our income base; if we do not we will have to cut services.
Taking the freeze grant is not a sustainable option.
“We have therefore recommended maintaining our strategy of keeping council tax increases within reasonable bounds and within the Consumer Price Index target set by the Bank of England.”
The rise equates to an additional £4 per year (34 pence per month) for a Band D property. The rest of the budget centred on ensuring the continuity of services.
Big business also took centre stage, with the planning application for Victoria Square described as ‘vitally important’ for the borough’s economy.
“Woking town centre remains the major source of our revenue income, a major employment centre and a well connected location for business,” Cllr Kingsbury explained.
“It is recognised within the Enterprise M3 area as a centre for growth and will form a major part of its bid to Government for financial support to secure economic growth and housing provision.
“In 2014-15 we are looking forward to undertaking further improvements. As part of the bid by Enterprise M3, and with partners, we will bring forward proposals in respect of Victoria Arch and improvements to the areas around Woking Station.
“These are critical assets to facilitate economic growth.” The plans for Victoria Square and the new fire station have been submitted, and it is hoped consent will be secured in the next few months.
Cllr Kingsbury added: “We will then receive reports on the budgets for the schemes and the financing proposals; this will be a major decision for us and vitally important for the future of the borough.”
As part of the Enterprise M3 project, the council will also be bringing forward major proposals for Goldsworth and Chertsey Roads, which will incorporate new commercial and residential accommodation.
But plans do not stop there. Cllr Kingsbury added: “Proposals for the next phase of improvements to Commercial Way and the further development of Wolsey Place, to secure additional new restaurants and retailers, will be submitted to the Executive at the council’s March meeting.
“These will add significantly to the improvements we have already made and, if approved, should be completed by 2015. A hot topic also on the agenda were plans to investigate future flood prevention projects.
Cllr Kingsbury believes the council’s record speaks for itself.
“It is clear the investment we made in Hoe Valley worked; the 200 homes that would otherwise have been at risk of flooding were saved,” he explained.
“I am grateful to officers and Serco who have worked so hard to help residents protect their properties against the recent and current storms and flooding.”
Council borrowing was also capped at £460 million, similar to last year’s total.
Cllr Kingsbury explained: “We have done this to address the concern by some members that the forecast borrowing limit had included the likely resources needed for Victoria Square.
“I have made clear that it will be for the council to determine the financing arrangements later in the year when we receive the advice from officers on the project cost, income from sales and net financing cost.
“I am sure the council can agree that we have achieved a great deal in difficult times and that residents have been well served by this council.
“But we still have much to do to secure the economic vitality that is essential to underpin service levels in 2014-15 and in future years.”