Holbeach council tax payers are confused about this year’s bills which show a 5.3 per cent hike when parish councillors agreed under two per cent.
Just weeks before its election, staff and members of Holbeach Parish Council are having to field questions about the variation, made even more of a mystery by the fact that a predicted average Band D council tax for 2015/16 of £64.88 is in fact £2.38 less at £62.50.
The parish council claims the difference is due to its Council Tax Support Grant – the amount from the Government handed down by district and borough councils to town and parish councils to help people on low incomes and pensioners with their council tax bills – having been cut by almost 50 per cent.
An email from a Holbeach resident, seen by the Guardian, said: “I was surprised and disappointed on receipt of my council tax bill (for) 2015/16 to note that the largest percentage increase is from the parish council.
“I do read parish council minutes each month (and) don’t recall a discussion on why the increase is 5.3 per cent – a rather large increase?”
The Government has laid down legislation in Parliament forcing all councils to hold a referendum if it proposed to increase its share of council tax by two per cent or more.
In an effort to prevent such a referendum, Holbeach parish councillors decided to cut back spending on areas such as Carter’s Park, allotments and its own offices in West End to keep its precept rise below two per cent.
Parish clerk Chris Seymour said: “The council kept its precept increase to 1.9 per cent (£194,640 for 2015/16) so members weren’t happy that it was published as 5.3 per cent on council tax bills.
“The council wasn’t able to find out whether the cutting of its Council Tax Support Grant from £13,348 last year to £6,755, a reduction of approximately 50 per cent, has come from central government or local government (South Holland District Council).
“So the resolve was to enquire about what it’s going to be next year and the impression members get is that it’ll be down to nothing.”
In a letter to the Guardian, parish council elections candidate Paul Foyster said: “All the (members of) Holbeach Parish Council, a non-political body, worked hard to keep our (council tax) increase as low as possible.
“No new paths for (Carter’s) Park or revamp for the toilets, no machinery for the allotments, with many converted into smaller garden-sized plots to allow people to grow their own and increase income, no replacement for much of the rather old carpet in the (council) offices.
“(But) we managed to keep the increase to under two per cent and still tackle a lot of outstanding issues – not bad for one of the biggest parishes in England.
“It was therefore surprising to find (that) the (council tax) demands show an increase of five per cent in the parish precept.
“It seems that South Holland District Council, with its own claims to (making) savings, has cut (its) funding grant to us by close to 50 per cent without bothering to tell us first.
“I have no idea if other parishes have suffered in the same way but it’s not a very good example of open, local government when this sort of thing takes place.
“Shifting the tax burden from district (councils) to parish (councils) isn’t making savings (as) residents still pay the same total.”
In contrast, the district council has cut its share of council tax for 2015-16 by half a per cent from £155.61 in 2014-15 to £154.84 this year.
Lincolnshire County Council’s share went up by 1.99 per cent from £1,065.69 to £1,085.94, while the amount for Lincolnshire Police rose by 1.9 per cent from £193.86 to £197.64, both for an average Band D property
A South Holland District Council spokesman said: “Parish councils set their own council tax precepts, so this is a matter entirely for Holbeach Parish Council.”