Councillors last night approved the budget for the next year, including the first council tax rise in six years.
A total of 40 councillors voted in favour of the Wycombe District Council 2016/17 budget at a full council meeting on Thursday evening, with ten abstaining from the vote.
The district council tax rise of £5 per year for a band D property (from £126.99 to £131.99) comes as Wycombe District Council’s funding from the government is to reduce by 48 per cent over the next four years.
The district will also see a 17 per cent reduction in the next year, 2016/17, from £2.475 million to £1.490 million, with a growing gap between revenue and costs expected to reach £2.6 million over the next six years.
Proposing the budget, cllr David Watson, cabinet member for finance and resources, said he could not see “any alternative” but to increase council tax and that “any increase, however modest, will be unwelcome news for our residents” but said the rise will help fund future projects in the district.
The likes of the new Wycombe Leisure Centre and the coachway park and ride is expected to create an extra £1.5 million a year to fund future council services, while the council hopes investing in empty retail units in Wycombe and Marlow will bring in more money.
Cllr Watson said the council tax increase will help pay for further phases of the Handy Cross Hub, the High Wycombe Town Centre masterplan and a review of the future of Saunderton Lodge to improve temporary accommodation for “vulnerable residents.”
The new budget will also allow for the council to keep their reserves at a “healthy” £8 million for any “financial surprises.”
Cllr Rafiq Raja, Labour leader, blasted the budget for being based on “unrealistic assumptions.”
He said: “You only have to look at the forecast for the Handy Cross Hub, over budget by £1 million, to realise how hopeless this council is at forecasting major project expenditure.
“There are so many caveats, or should I say cavities, that one wonders if it has been copied from a recipe for Swiss cheese.
“You belong to the same party as the government, you signed up to austerity and cuts and now you are bleating about them.
“We know things are going to get worse. More young people evicted, more young people with no work at all. The council tax rise won’t come anywhere near sorting these problems.”
Cllr Matt Knight, leader of the East Wycombe Independents, said the tax rise “may be OK in principle, but not for more of the same” and wants to see a “radical rethink” of how the council uses its assets to improve housing district.
He said the leader of the council, Katrina Wood’s priorities for youth and housing were “laudable” but could not see them reflected in the budget.
He said: “Because of the rising cost and lack of suitable housing Wycombe District is rapidly becoming out of reach for the vulnerable, young and low paid.
“Is this what we want? Is our desire as a council to allow the district to simply become a playground for the wealthy? Or do we want to build real communities where all are welcomed and all can have equal access to opportunities?
“We can showcase our shopping centres and leisure developments and say haven’t we done well, but what use are these places for those who can’t even have the stability and security of decent housing?”
Cllr Julia Wassell, also of the East Wycombe Independents, said she was “glad” the council tax was going up as it shows the government has “recognised the crisis facing adult social care.”