5:30am Tuesday 28th January 2014
PORTLAND town councillors faced angry residents as they attempted to explain the reasoning behind their decision to hike up the council tax precept.
Around 600 people packed into All Saints Church at Easton last night for the discussion which saw councillors heckled and calls made for them to resign.
The decision to hike up the island precept by 1,000 per cent for a Band D property has caused widespread anger.
It would generate £500,000 for the town council to spend on the island and become more ‘financially independent’ in the wake of local authority cuts.
In response to concern in the community, a proposal is to be put forward at a council meeting next month urging councillors to start all over again with the budget and rescind any earlier decisions made about the precept.
At the meeting last night, Councillor Richard Denton-White told the crowd to ‘shut up’ as he was heckled while explaining that the extra money from the precept could pay for services such as the island caretaker.
But Portland Mayor Les Ames said such services were already paid for through borough council tax.
He said: “I would not agree that the Portland people should pay twice for something they should have of their own right.”
Chairing the meeting, John Ungley, a retired Queen’s Bench Master, threatened to throw people out of the meeting if they did not keep order.
Former councillor John Thorner, who has said he will go to prison rather than pay the increase, called for all the town councillors to resign.
He also presented a petition to the meeting signed by 3,000 people protesting against the precept hike.
Councillor Tim Munro said the move to increase the precept had been in response to a statement by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that the town council precept could be capped, a decision he said South Dorset MP Richard Drax has since confirmed via email.
Coun Munro added: “If we want things to be done there has to be a payment somewhere.
“We would have liked to do this over a ten-year plan but there was an immediacy to it because that door was about to be shut.”
But borough councillor for Tophill East David Hawkins criticised the town council, saying they were suffering from ‘delusions of grandeur’.
He also said that the Munro family, who hold four seats on the town council, had acted like ‘their own political party’.
And Sandy West, who represents Underhill, said that many people simply could not afford to pay the increase.
Responding to complaints from residents, town councillors admitted there had been poor communication regarding the decision to increase the precept.
Resident Jess Nagel, a former borough mayor, said the lack of consultation had been ‘shameful.’
She told councillors: “You have alienated the whole of Portland because of what you have done.”
Coun Rod Wild said the minutes and agenda of meetings had not been published on the Portland Town Council website due to funding cuts by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, but added that a ‘skeleton’ website is now being funded by the town council.
He added: “We do want to improve communication.”
Town councillor Andy Matthews admitted the situation ‘should have been handled better’.
He added: “It’s easy to say ‘let’s shut down the town council’ but at some point the borough and county councils will look to someone else to run services and if it is not us, then we will lose those services.”
Councillors will consider a proposal at a meeting on February 5 to start the budget process again.
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