A PROPOSED tax bill hike for Middlewich residents has been slashed in the latest draft budget – and it points towards next year's Folk and Boat Festival potentially being axed.

An early draft version of next year's Middlewich Town Council budget included a 22.5 per cent increase in the precept, which would have seen tax bills for Band D properties go up by £17.60 per year, or 39p a week.

Councillors agreed that would be too steep at this month's town council meeting and called for cuts to be made in order to keep bills as low as possible for the ratepayer.

Now, the latest draft budget has been published ahead of a meeting to discuss the council's financial plans, and it includes a much lower precept rise of five per cent – meaning Band D bills would increase by £4.02 for the year, or 34p per month.

It means the total precept figure which is currently on the table is £66,960 less than the previous one – at £405,680 compared to £472,640.

That money has been saved in the latest draft by cutting budgets to a raft of areas.

Events including Folk and Boat – but excluding Remembrance and Christmas – have been shelved, saving costs including wages, although it does reduce the council's income.

There are also cuts to the budget for a potential cemetery audit, professional fees and work on the neighbourhood plan.

The chairman's fund has also been removed, while expenditure on flowers and Christmas lights has also been reduced.

These moves are in line with what councillors called for at this month's town council meeting, but this is not the finished version of the budget.

Councillors will discuss the latest plans at a virtual meeting on Monday, November 30, at 7.15pm, with residents having the opportunity to discuss the plans.

The draft version will then be refined again, with further changes still possible, before going to next month's town council meeting to be approved.

Cllr Mike Hunter, chairman of Middlewich Town Council, said: “This year should be the year that we look to set a realistic budget, which is to not overreach ourselves and not take everything out of reserves.

"We’ve got people on 80 per cent pay in this town, we’ve got people on less than 80 per cent pay, we’ve got people using foodbanks that have never used foodbanks in their lives.

“We can’t increase our precept. It’s not acceptable for those people."

Middlewich councillors say they will follow the wishes of residents before making final budget decisions, including on Folk and Boat.

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Following the last meeting, Cllr Gareth Williams said: "The Folk and Boat Festival alone costs about £80,000. Normally, this event pretty much pays for itself.

"But 2021 is of course a big unknown. We are yet to have a Covid vaccine signed off as safe, we are unlikely to see one rolled out widely before Christmas, and it will first be to people in care homes and the vulnerable – and by summer, I believe that social distancing will still be in place.

"Therefore, any projection of Folk and Boat making a profit is not just risky – we would be kidding ourselves. It is my regretful belief that, whether we spend money to make the festival happen or not, we will not see a profit.

"For me, the big question is Folk and Boat. If people want it to happen then we can make it happen – but it will come at a cost in terms of this precept and probably next year too, depending on how much of a loss we incur."