Arun council tax rise and budget is passed

Topping out ceremony of new Littlehampton Leisure Centre last year, which is due to open later in 2019
Topping out ceremony of new Littlehampton Leisure Centre last year, which is due to open later in 2019

Arun District Council has raised its portion of the council tax bill by £5.22.

The 2.96 per cent increase will take the authority’s share of a Band D bill to £181.62 from April, and bring in £11.1m from the 61,281 who pay the tax.

Added to West Sussex County Council’s increase of just over £65, and the police rise of £24, people will have to fork out more than £90 extra in the next financial year.

Arun approved its budget at a civic centre meeting on Wednesday night where leader Gillian Brown (Con, Aldwick East) told members that council tax could have been raised by three per cent but the council chose not to do so.

She said: “I believe that districts are the most effective part of local government and the proposed increase should have a minimal effect upon our taxpayers.”

She added: “I need to stress that although Arun collects the council tax on behalf of West Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and all the towns and parishes, we only keep less than 10 per cent of the total council tax bill.

“I’m really proud of what we achieve for that modest amount.”

The balanced budget included £1.1m to be placed in the business rates reserve, adding to the £2m set aside earlier this financial year.

More than £500k will be invested in a new revenues and benefits system, which the meeting was told would ‘bring undoubted benefits to our council taxpayers and improve the service to our claimants whilst providing greater efficiencies across the council’.

There was good news regarding the Littlehampton Wave leisure centre, which is due to be completed later this year.

Mrs Brown announced that no borrowing would be needed to fund the project and the council was receiving £600k from the new contractor.

She added: “Therefore, not only are we debt-free but we are also achieving excellent returns on our investment.”

The issue of the council’s reserves was something of a sticking point for Lib Dem members.

With some £14.7m in earmarked reserves – those set aside for a specific purpose – and £7.5m in the general fund reserves, Daniel Purchese (Lib Dem, Beach) accused the council of ‘hoarding cash’.

He said: “What is the point of a council if it’s going to sit on cash year after year?”

Alternative ideas for some of the money – such as a budget of £2k for each ward to pay for improvement work called for by the community – were put forward and promptly voted down.

The budget was approved with 33 in favour and five abstentions.

Mrs Brown said: “This budget delivers excellent value for money and an affordable level of investment for essential services.

“It ensures stability in the areas that are needed most.

“Importantly it is deliverable and continues to support our priorities.”