TOWN councillors say they will ‘try their hardest’ to prevent a tax hike next year despite uncertainty hanging over the accounts.

Labour won all but one of the seats on Middlewich Town Council in May’s local elections with a manifesto promise to ‘end massive council tax increases’.

But a draft version of the next year’s budget which was presented at Monday’s town council meeting included a five per cent increase in the council tax precept.

Middlewich resident Jacqui Eyre spotted the figures and raised the issue during the meeting’s open forum.

She said: “A lot of this council has spent the last three years mudslinging and throwing accusations at Middlewich First [who previously ran the council].

“You still seem to be doing the same. You are still blaming them for what has gone on in the past – move forward and give the residents what you promised.

“If you raise our precept, you will be in breach of your promise and you will be very, very unpopular with the residents of Middlewich.”

The draft budget said Middlewich Town Council would rake in a total of £384,714 from tax in 2020-21 – a five per cent increase over the £366,394 it brought in for 2019-20.

It was discussed on the same night as a damning report from auditor JDH Business Services, which found 28 failings that left the council’s accounts for 2017-18 and 2018-19 ‘incorrect’ – including a failure to register for VAT, which could leave the council with a hefty bill.

Cllr Helen Watkinson, chairman of the council’s internal committee, said: “There have not been correct audits and audit figures presented for at least two years.

Winsford Guardian:

“We don’t know what an average month of running the council costs. We can’t predict solidly how much reserves we need for the future.

“There is still uncertainty on all sorts of things. There may be a VAT bill for more than £100,000 and we’ve got no idea whether we’ve got culpability there or not yet.

“We would like to have reduced the precept this year – but I don’t know [if we can].”

Members were told that the council would rake in an extra £2,000 next year if it kept the precept the same.

The council is working with a VAT consultant to see how much tax it might owe, but that work is set to be complete after the council’s deadline for submitting its precept plan for 2020-21 in January, while council staff wage increases are also overdue and need to be factored into the budget.

Cllr Carol Bulman said: “We could go into the reserves a little bit given that we are going to be going out there actively seeking to bring money in.

Winsford Guardian:

“We will be actively generating income and that means we can keep the precept the same, and if we have in emergencies we can go into those reserves, but we will be working hard to bring money in.”

Cllr Chris Jones added: “In terms of cutting it, I don’t think we can achieve that this year, but I think we should at least try our hardest to keep it the same rather than raise it – if that’s possible.”

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Members voted for a policy that states the council’s intention not to increase the precept.