LYME Regis Town Council has got its finances back on track following the coronavirus pandemic, and is expected to have at least £1.2million in the bank by the end of the financial year.
The town clerk’s latest report on the authority’s budget performance was a far cry from that reported in spring 2020, when members were told that the coronavirus pandemic was “wiping out” the council’s reserves.
Lyme Regis has often been described as a “rich council” in recent years, with reserves at one point standing at £1.4million. But with a heavy dependency on tourism-related income, there were concerns that the pandemic would see this figure knocked down to £67,000.
The council looked into several money-saving options last year, including putting major projects on hold, selling off assets and even considered taking out a loan – a proposal which was eventually dismissed.
Following what was thought to be the town’s busiest ever summer, the council has seen a complete turn around in its financial forecast, thanks largely to an increase in car parking income – expected to be 25 per cent more than budgeted for throughout the year.
Members were told last week that they should have enough in the bank at the end of the financial year to boost reserves back to a healthy level, continue with agreed upon projects such as the Guildhall refurbishment and new railings on the seafront, and could even pay back Dorset Council the outstanding total of £157,000 remaining from a loan taken out in the early 2000s for the shelters refurbishment project.
As well as car parking, other contributing factors have included increased income from the council’s amenities, such as the mini golf course in Lister Gardens, and from the Monmouth Beach chalet park.
This council has benefited from recent sales of beach huts at Monmouth Beach, receiving a transfer fee of 10% of the selling price plus VAT, with current prices described by the council’s finance officer as “through the roof”.
The council also received an unbudgeted donation of £16,000 from Warner Bros for the use of Monmouth Beach car park during the recent filming of ‘Wonka’.
Town clerk John Wright said the estimation of £1.2million in the bank by the end of the financial year was “prudent” and could likely increase.
He commented: “This year has so far been very good for us and it’s fair to say our forecast is that the year will continue to be good and the amount of surplus that we budgeted for will be exceeded quite significantly.
“This is all good news and we are now able to release further projects.”
Council tax precept to remain at same level
Following news of the healthy financial forecast, councillors agreed to hold the council tax precept [the total annual amount the town council receives from the full council tax bill] at same level of £132,779 for the 2022/23 year – the equivalent of £64.41 a year for a Band D property.
It was suggested by Cllr Richard Doney that the council could scrap the precept altogether for one year to give something back to residents following a challenging 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, concerns were raised that if the council did this for one year, it would then face backlash when the precept was reintroduced in 2023/24, similar to that the government experienced when it stopped its £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit payments earlier this month.
The town clerk also warned councillors that the government may introduce a council tax precept cap, and if the precept was scrapped it could be capped at zero for future years.
The council increased the precept by 10% last year – bringing in extra income of just under £13,000 – having held it at the same level for the previous 10 years. Members were told that the precept was relatively low compared to neighbouring areas.
It was agreed to hold the precept at the same level, rather than scrapping it. However, councillors did agree to offer residents benefits when setting other charges for the coming financial year, including a permit for 50% discount in its car parks and when booking beach huts for 2023 onwards.