Council defends itself, saying it represents over 35,000 people and carries out important services

Darlington and Stockton Times: Sharp council tax rise Sharp council tax rise

RESIDENTS in Billingham have started a petition to disband the town council after its precept rose by 28 per cent on last year.

If the petition gains over 2,000 signatures it could lead to a referendum in the town to decide whether it wants to keep its town council.

Council tax bills will be landing on the mat in the coming weeks and some residents are furious that Billingham’s share of the bill has gone up by so much. Last year the precept rose by 17.8 per cent.

Stockton Borough Council increased its share of the council tax by 1.9 per cent this year and most parish precepts in the borough have been frozen from last year.

Billingham Town Council will collect 160,213 from the public purse this year compared with £124,829 last year. But the town council defended itself, saying it does more work than many other town councils and the increase amounts to just seven pence per week on the average property.

Former Stockton borough mayor Lynne Apedaile, who represents Billingham as an independent on the borough council, criticised the fact the council had three members of staff.

She said: “Last year, 2012-13, approximately 75 per cent of the precept was spent on administration costs, with over 50 per cent of that being paid in salaries and pensions.

“Then there were the payments from public funds for two Christmas Dinners for members, along with birthday cake, various presents, cards and flowers for members and staff.

“Is it any wonder that residents are asking questions?”

Kevin Bowler, one of the residents behind the petition, said: “They’re hiding behind data protection but we have worked it out and think the clerk’s salary is between £33-35,000.”

But last night Dianne Rickaby, executive officer – or clerk - of the town council, defended the precept rise, saying it was directly in relation to the council’s plans to revitalise John Whitehead Park and open a cafe and youth hub there. She refused to discuss her salary.

She said: “We are in the top 25 largest town councils in the country and we represent 35,000 people. Unlike many other town councils we actually carry out a lot of work including having an enforcement team to crack down on anti-social behaviour.

“Yes, we have made a few misdemeanours with the flowers and such like but all that has stopped now. Members even pay for their tea and coffee themselves now, and are actually out of pocket.”

“There was certainly no misappropriation of funds. If these residents have such a problem they are welcome to come and discuss it with us at any time, which they have not done so far.

The residents’ epetition is at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stockton-borough-council-undertake-a-governance-review-of-billingham-town-councilhttp://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stockton-borough-council-undertake-a-governance-review-of-billingham-town-council. There is also a paper petition with more than 600 signatures.

 

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