LYME Regis Town Council was given an update on its financial position following the impact of COVID-19 as it set its budget for the coming year.
The annual budget setting meeting was held via video conferencing app Zoom on Wednesday, when it was reported that the council expects to end the 2020/21 financial year with a £53,000 deficit, which will have to be taken from its reserves, depleting them to £560,000.
However, this is a much-improved outlook compared to a few months ago, with the council initially estimating end of year reserves to stand at just £67,000 when lockdown first took hold in the spring.
Speaking at the meeting, town clerk John Wright said the “material increase” in the estimated end of year reserve was largely down to an increase in normal car parking income during September and October, as well as a strong August, and the council spending more time chasing up historic debts.
“It’s all beginning to look better for us,” he added.
Mr Wright added that these estimates were prudent and he hoped to bring councillors even more positive news at the end of the financial year in March 2021.
Members then approved a ‘base budget’ with income of £1,686,267.25 and expenditure of £1,305,548.43 for the 2021/22 financial year, with reserves expected to increase by £380,718.82.
The 2021/22 ‘base budget’ includes savings of £128,000 to start rebuilding the reserves, including a £41,000 cut on office expenses and a £53,000 cut on outside works.
The town clerk said a large cut to office expenses would be consultant fees, which the council currently spent “a small fortune on”.
He commented: “Our legal fees alone are quite significant. We are a property based council so there will always have to be some input from lawyers, but we need to become a less litigious organisation.”
Councillors agreed not to raise council tax precept (the portion of council tax which goes to town council) in the next financial year, acknowledging that “we have all endured a difficult time” – but they warned it will have to rise in future.
Councillors agreed on objectives for the coming years, with those in the top priority list including: IT equipment for councillors, office refurbishment, seafront gardens refurbishment, electric vehicle charing pods, installing water meters, purchasing a new chipper, replacing corroding seafront railings, installing CCTV cameras, undertaking an asset management strategy, and repairing or replacing the old cadet hut behind Anning Road now used by council’s outside works team.
Despite the largely positive news, some councillors expressed concerns that the council had not adapted or made enough changes in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cllr Richard Doney said that many organisations had realised over the past year that they needed to change the way they operated and the town council was not immune from this.
He said that while some savings were being made, the council was largely continuing as normal and was not making an effort to become more efficient.
Cllr Belinda Bawden also felt the council should be adapting more in light of COVID-19 and the current climate emergency.
“It does seem life is much like usual despite being in global pandemic and life is never going to be the same again, and that’s not reflected here,” she said.
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