Monday, 18 March 2013

We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve either read or heard Boston Borough Council mouthpieces tell us their version of the good news concerning our council tax.
It was summed up on the borough website after the tax setting meeting a fortnight ago.
“No increase in council tax by Boston Borough Council in 2013/14 - that's the headline good news from the council-tax setting meeting … It is the third year running that the council has not increased its share of the council tax you pay.”
Well of course, we all know the myth attached to the so-called council tax “freeze.”
Councils agree to peg their charges for a year and the government slings them a bunch of readies to ease the pain.
Councils like it because it makes them look good – although over the years of the freeze-easy era, more and more of them have put their hands up and confessed that they aren’t quite as clever as they like to think they are.
Not so Boston.
Despite the headlines, there are some tell-tale, giveaway phrases in the announcements to tell us that all is not quite what it might appear to be.
In January, the first announcement declared:  “Residents should not have to find a penny more in council tax in 2013/14 to pay for services provided by Boston Borough Council ...
And the one we cited earlier in our story says: “It is the third year running that the council has not increased its share of the council tax you pay.
So you might be lulled into believing that you’ve been let off more council tax for a third year.
A number of readers have been in touch since their council tax demands arrived in the last few days who have clearly been lulled into a false sense of security by the council’s claims.
You may think that if you live in Boston your bill will remain the same.
But for 27,500 residents living in 13,000 dwellings in the heart of the town, that is not the case.
They live in the area served by BTAC – the Boston Town Area Committee – which the borough council treats as if it were a parish council … and as such levies a separate charge to raise its own share council tax.
This is despite the fact that the councillors who sit on the committee are Boston borough councillors, and that the services BTAC provide are delivered through Boston Borough Council.
For many years, the BTAC budget has remained virtually unchanged.
But just before the setting of the council tax charges for 2013 to 2014, “budget consultations” suggested that BTAC should adopt the whole area of the Garfits Lane playing field rather than only the playground area that it had previously funded.
Despite the fact that BTAC is controlled by the Conservative leadership, the vote to agree was a close run thing – and in the end it was the casting vote of the Conservative Chairman and cabinet member Councillor Mike Gilbert that tipped the balance in favour of the cabinet’s demands.
The effect of that decision is to increase council tax for a Band D property from £8.85 to £12.72.
The propaganda machine at Worst Street tells us that “most households will pay less than this” – which is only because most properties in Boston are in the Band A category.
And whilst it means that it is perfectly true to claim that the council has not increased its share of the council tax, by foisting a bill of almost £34,000 from the “council’s finances” to those of BTAC, the council has effected a saving on its ludicrously high “leisure” budget.
This budget stands at just under a million pounds for 2013/14 and pays for the Geoff Moulder Leisure Complex, healthy walks and sports and play development.
That’s a lot of money for so little in terms of delivery, and we wonder why keeping the £34,000 in the more appropriate budget could not have been managed, rather than fobbing it off onto the townspeople – most of whom will never use the facility.
As you might expect, there is camouflage around the issue – the principal claim being that  “overall the level of tax amounts to 24p per week for the BTAC taxpayer”  … but as one councillor and BTAC member told us: “This will increase the “town” element of the council tax by 41%.
It’s not the first time that the leadership has tried to push charges on to the parishes.
Back at the end of 2011, a “briefing document” asked them either to accept responsibility for local street lighting or else pay the council £68 a light to meet the cost. This would have raised parish charges by – at the lowest 13.6% in Wyberton to 105.2% in Frampton. Fortunately, the parishes refused to play ball.
Talking of which, we’re reminded of the old street game involving a ball and three cups, which took money from people by a cleverly designed series of distractions using “plants” in the audience so that the punters wouldn’t spot what was going on.
But, as Abraham Lincoln so rightly declared: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

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