Haslemere Town Council has released its draft budget for the 2023/24 financial year, outlining planned expenditure of £486,810 and a recommended precept increase of 10.4 per cent for an average Band D property.

Council papers released ahead of tonight’s budget-setting meeting at Town Hall state this year’s budget was a “difficult” process because of high levels of inflation and “a desire to not add to the burden on residents if possible”.

The council’s budget working party (BWP) was asked to limit the increase to roughly 10 per cent, leading to some “difficult decisions” and the creation of guidelines for decision-making. These included prioritising the safety of staff and the public, protecting the most vulnerable, focusing on projects that benefit a “wider group of residents over narrower groups”, and maintaining existing revenue grants over new ones.

For many years the town council has made revenue grants to support the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the Hoppa bus service, and these will again receive £18,500 and £7,500 grants respectively.

The BWP also formally agreed to a recurrent revenue grant for the Place to Be youth club (£6,000), while Visit Haslemere will receive £2,500 and Weyhill in Bloom £850.

The BWP considered all of these to support the most vulnerable and directly benefit a wide group of Haslemere residents.

However, the area of greatest discussion and disagreement within the BWP was the Youth Hub, and the papers state “this was the only area where councillors did not reach a consensus view”.

All members agreed the Youth Hub provides a worthwhile service to an important part of the community, but as no grant was paid last year, the majority view was not to suggest a grant for 2023/24.

The BWP has also suggested cutting the small and green grants to £7,500 for 2023/24. Councillors stressed this is not meant to be a long-term cut, but noted the new council will decide on the return funding in future years after May’s local elections.

Other special projects that have been included in the budget are Town Meadow Playground Equipment (£50,000, from the council’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) pot – see below), King Charles III’s coronation (£5,000), Town Hall maintenance works (£6,000) and works to trees at Town Meadow (£1,500).

The council’s expenditure will be met by a combination of council tax (precept), budgeted use of reserves, CIL contributions arising from major developments in the town, and other “miscellaneous income”.

The proposed precept of £409.6 thousand equates to around 84 per cent of the council’s total expenditure, and a cost per Band D property of £52.64 – adding £4.74 to the town’s council’s share of the average yearly tax bill.

The precept set by Haslemere Town Council is only a small portion of the overall council tax bill, as it also includes charges from the county and borough councils, as well as Surrey Police.