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D-Day for council tax rise and parking changes

Residents in Horsham district face an increase in council tax and new parking charges to help stave off a £4 million deficit in council coffers.

Councillors face a crucial meeting on February 24 to agree the charges against a backdrop of a 62.3% cut in the Conservative-controlled Government funding over the next four years.

Conservative-dominated Horsham District Council has put forward a number of measures which it says are meant to ensure that the council can continue to fully deliver its services. The Post reported in the Christmas period that these were being considered and details have now been released.

Among them is a 1.2 per cent increase in council tax, which would add just under 3p a week on average to bills.

The district council says it is the first increase in six years and is in line with inflation measured against the Retail Price Index.

An average property at Band D would see an increase from £135.54 to £137.17 from April.

A report before this week’s cabinet meeting proposing a budget for the council of £12.55m for 2016/1, said the financial shortfall comes in part as a result of the announcement made in December 2015 that within two years the Government will withdraw all of the £1.6 million in revenue support grant that the council has previously received. This reduction in grant is in addition to cuts totalling £1.6 million over the past three years.

The report said that without action the deficit will approach £4m by 2019/20, also suggesting savings and generating income to tackle the deficit over this longer period.

Another of the measures up for approval next month is the introduction of Sunday and Bank Holiday parking charges at a £1.50 flat fee from April 1 this year in all Horsham town surface and multi-storey car parks.  The council says the additional income will continue to fund improvements to the car parks and also contribute towards the council’s medium term financial strategy.

If agreed at full council on February 24, any increase in the council tax will be introduced to bills from April.

Council leader Ray Dawe said: “Through efficiency savings and prudent financial planning we have been able to avoid increasing council tax for six years and have given our residents one of the lowest council tax levels in the country. At the same time we have been able to maintain a high level of service to our residents. However, while we shall persist with trying to find further efficiency savings and minimise any increased charges, our options.as a result of the latest Government cuts are becoming more limited.

“What is clear is that while the council has a sound financial position for the short term, unless we take action now as the Government grant disappears, we shall have a huge deficit in the future. Councillors will therefore need to discuss a medium term strategy of how to tackle this when they meet for our annual budget meeting in February 2016.”

The council has also announced increases of up to 33 per cent in garden waste charges.

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